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After an injury that causes major damage, your dog may be left with open wounds or exposed areas of tissue where skin is missing. Infection or removal of tumors may also create a loss of skin in areas too large to be closed with traditional stitches. In these cases, skin grafts may be used to cover the area of the injury. Pinch grafts, also known as punch grafts or strip grafts, are used to close up smaller areas, allowing your dog’s own skin to regrow over the injured area, providing better protection from infection and less chance of rejection of the tissue than from donor or other graft methods.
A pinch graft is a surgical procedure that will require your dog to undergo anesthesia. Prior to surgery, your veterinarian will request a full blood panel on your dog. This ensures that your dog is healthy enough for surgery and isn’t suffering from any underlying or secondary conditions that could create complications during the procedure.
The veterinary surgeon will begin by thoroughly cleaning the injury or wound of any foreign debris, pus or blood. In order to form a good bond, the new skin must come in direct contact with the underlying tissue. This will allow nutrients to pass into the grafted skin and promote growth of nerve connections. Old or necrotic edges to the wound must also be cut away so that any infection does not spread to the newly grafted skin.
Next, small portions, also called pinches or punches, of skin are removed from another area of your dog’s body. The scrotum area is a common place to remove donor skin. These small incisions are closed up with a stitch or surgical glue when necessary. The grafts are then placed on top of the exposed tissue. Your vet will then immobilize the entire area through the use of layers of clean bandage. Unlike larger grafts, there is no reconnecting of major veins or arteries and tissue is allowed to form its own connection as it slowly heals.
Pinch grafts are highly effective for treating minor or uneven wounds. The effectiveness of the graft, or its ability to take to the underlying tissue, will often depend on proper aftercare and on your dog’s immune system. In properly treated injuries, pinch grafts will aid in the growth of scar tissue and the healing of wounds by creating connections between the skin grafts which will help the area close up.
Recovery from a pinch graft procedure will often be slow and may require follow-up care from your veterinarian. In many cases, one or more of the small grafts may fail and die. These should be removed so that any infection will not be passed on to surrounding healthy grafts. Wounds will begin to heal in as little as 25 days, with full healing and fur regrowth around 90 days.
Your dog will need special antibiotics, as well as regular bandage changing. It is important that your dog is kept calm and quiet and is not allowed to chew, lick or otherwise aggravate the wound area. Proper healing of the pinch graft depends on the new skin being held immobile to the exposed tissue and every precaution should be taken to ensure the graft remains as undisturbed as possible.
The cost of pinch grafts will vary greatly depending on your region, the size of the wound and number of grafts needed to treat the injury. Since the materials needed will be minimal, cost will depend on the amount of surgeon time needed to perform the procedure as well as the amount of anesthesia needed for your dog’s size and weight. Typical rates range from $130 to $200 an hour, with an average pinch graft procedure of one to two square inches requiring one to two hours of surgery. You can expect a typical pinch graft procedure, including anesthesia, antibiotic, follow up dressing and surgery, to range from $500 to $800.
Pinch grafts can be used to treat a variety of small wounds, as well as wounds that have infection present, since the smaller grafts allow for better drainage. This procedure also requires a minimal amount of donor tissue to be taken from other areas of your dog. It is important that your dog is kept quiet and calm after the pinch graft and the dressing should be changed frequently in order to keep the area clean and promote healing.
Other options include full thickness grafts, which may require larger amounts of skin be taken from other area of your dog. This can create additional wounds and a greater risk of infection. Donor tissue can also be used in some dogs, but has a greater risk of rejection. Synthetic tissues are also being developed but most are not yet advanced enough or are too costly to be considered viable alternatives to traditional grafts.
Treatment of wounds begins with prevention. When outside, your dog should always be leashed and under your control. You should not allow your dog to roam in an unfenced area where they can potentially be hit by cars or other vehicles. When introducing your dog to other animals in areas such as dog parks or public places, be sure to ask owners of other animals whether their dog is friendly before approaching. Learn good and bad dog body language and teach your pet an off or recall command that can be used to have your dog instantly return to your side if you witness bad behavior by other animals.
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