Wound management is one of the most common things that we deal with in my practice, and it is an area where I find a great deal of misinformation amongst my clients. Here I will specifically address superficial wounds and abrasions that don’t extend deeper than the skin.
Obviously the first task is to control the bleeding. If this cannot be accomplished with direct pressure on the wound then you need to seek help. Use absorbent materials such as gauze or wound compress bandages and resist the temptation to keep looking at the wound; keep direct pressure applied for at least five minutes, as removing the bandage will disrupt the clot and cause further bleeding. Once the bleeding has stopped, the wound must be cleaned. All wounds are contaminated with hair debris and bacteria. Apply KY jelly to the wound and remove the hair from the wound edges with clippers or scissors. The jelly will help contain the hair and keep it from adhering to the wound. Next, the wound should be flushed. Sterile saline solution is best but warm water will work fine. If you can add some gentle pressure to the fluid stream (i.e. use a syringe) it will help dislodge some of the debris. This part of wound care is critical and should not be rushed. Avoid using harsh chemical. The old adage of ”if a little of this medicine/antiseptic is good then a whole bunch is better” is just not true. I don’t use hydrogen peroxide any more because it stings and has very little bacteria killing properties. Peroxide should never be used after the initial cleaning because it will delay healing. Iodine is also often used improperly. If you use iodine, dilute it with water until it looks like “weak tea”. It kills bacteria better at this dilution and it doesn’t burn the tissues. I prefer diluted chlorhexidine solution. If you don’t have any of the above, just use water.
At this point you need to determine if the wound needs to be sutured. Wounds that need to be sutured should be seen within the first 6-10 hours or earlier if possible. I understand that this is not always possible but waiting longer will decrease the chances of uncomplicated healing if sutured. Wounds can certainly be sutured after 6-10 hours but more preparation will need to be done, sometimes necessitating the re-creation of a larger wound to remove the contaminated surface tissue.
If the wound doesn’t need to be sutured then it should be protected. Bandaging should be done if possible to protect the delicate tissues as they heal and to prevent further contamination from the environment and licking/scratching. Bandage material should be clean and absorbent. If bleeding continues to be a problem, pressure can be applied to the bandage. Be careful of constrictive bandages and always monitor them to make sure they aren’t too tight. On limbs, wrap the entire leg from the wound to the toes to prevent swelling below the bandage. Be very careful with elastic tapes and remember that every time you go around a body part with the tape under tension, it has an additive effect. I have seen animals that needed amputations from bandages that were too tight. Bandage material should be removed or replaced as soon as it becomes saturated with fluid. This material must be removed from the wound surface or it will act as a growth media for bacteria and promote infection.
Antiseptic topical medications can be helpful but are not always needed. The decision should be based on the wound’s progress and any detectable signs of infection. Systemic antibiotics are not necessary unless signs of infection are obvious. Far too many animals are treated with antibiotics unnecessarily just because it becomes a habit.
I hope this article helps you understand basic wound care better. This is a huge topic that can’t be completely covered in an article such as this one, but hopefully this information provides you with some new tools.