Your overly curious and adventurous four-legged friend caught his foot in the door the other day and now the foot is swollen and it smells sickly sweet. Even though you have done everything you can, the swelling seems to be getting worse and now he seems to be trying to chew his own foot off. To top it off, the skin on his foot is now turning a horrible shade of black.
This sounds very familiar… those symptoms are identical to gangrene in humans. Gangrene is described as what happens when a part of the body loses its blood supply. It can happen from an injury, an infection, or one of many other causes. The area involved may become blue or black (skin) or red or bronze (under the skin) and emit a foul-smelling discharge. The person will also loose feeling after a period of intense pain.
Can Dogs Get Gangrene?
If your dog displays any signs of swelling or infection from an injury, you need to take him to see his vet immediately. Gangrene can set in and destroy significant amounts of tissue very quickly and, if not treated, can be fatal.
Your dog can get gangrene in any part of his body, but toes, tails, and in nursing moms, a mastitis infection, can develop into gangrene. Gangrene kills off healthy tissue and can damage organs, causing pain, discomfort, and death if left untreated.
Does My Dog Have Gangrene?
The hardest part of diagnosing gangrene in dogs is that the problem can exist under his skin and fur where it can be very hard to see until the infection has advanced significantly.
The symptoms of gangrene in dogs are very similar to those in humans and include:
Swelling of the area affected
Sickly sweet-smelling discharge
Discoloration of the area affected
Loss of feeling in the area affected
Loss of appetite
The most common causes of gangrene in dogs are very similar to those for humans and include:
A serious trauma such as a cut, gunshot, or crush injury
An infection resulting from surgery
Anything that might cause loss of blood flow to an extremity
The best way to determine if your dog has gangrene is to take him into your favorite vet for a complete examination. The vet should perform a physical examination of the site, run blood tests to see if your dog’s white blood cell count is high, and culture the tissue to look for a bacterial infection. He can also examine a sample of the tissue to see if any evidence of cell death exists.
To learn more about bacterial infections and injuries visit our Condition Guides.
How Do I Treat My Dog's Gangrene?
If you suspect your dog has gangrene, it must be treated by a veterinarian to ensure the highest possible chance of a successful recovery.
If you suspect your dog may have gangrene, he must be taken to see his vet. If you notice the problem after hours, you cannot afford to wait! You must seek out help at the nearest veterinary hospital emergency room, your dog’s life may depend on how fast diagnosis and treatment are started.
Treatment of the affected area will vary depending on how far advanced the gangrene has become. Your vet may start off with a heavy dose of antibiotics to retard the advancement of the infection causing the gangrene.
In the event the gangrene is in a tail or a limb, it may have to be amputated in order to stop the gangrene from reaching your dog’s vital organs.
Before amputation, the vet may try to stem the infection by surgically removing dead tissue and trying to improve blood flow to the affected area. This may take several surgeries.
Once the affected area/limb has been treated and all signs of dead tissue have been removed, your dog will be put on a regimen of antibiotics to ensure all bacteria has been destroyed. Beyond resting for a period of time, he should make a full recovery and return to his normal life in a few weeks.
For more information on the treatment of gangrene and recovery, talk to your vet or visit our Condition Guides.
How is Gangrene Similar in Dogs and Humans?
Canine gangrene is very similar to the condition found in humans and presents in a very similar fashion. Among the common shared symptoms are:
Swelling of the area caused by infection
Foul-smelling discharge caused by dying tissues
Loss of feeling in the area caused by dying nerves and tissues
Skin and tissues that are turning black
Blood and pus draining from the wound site
How Is Gangrene Different in Dogs and Humans?
While most humans suffer from gangrene in such a manner that it can be seen on the outside, there are numerous cases of this condition occurring inside the body of dogs where it cannot be seen immediately by the naked eye. Here are the major differences for you to consider:
Dogs can get gangrene from an infected nipple due to nursing
Dogs can get gangrene internally from twisted intestines
The swelling and infection can often be hidden under the fur
Amputation is more commonly used as a treatment in dogs
A family takes their dog to a car show where he proceeds to get his leg caught up in a barbed wire fence. The fire department had to be called to cut him loose, but the wire had cut deeply into his leg. He was taken to the vet's office for treatment.
Treatment included cleaning, stitches, and wound dressing. Later in the week the owner noticed the dog was trying to chew his own leg off. Upon returning to the vet, it was discovered that gangrene had set in and the dog's leg had to be amputated at the hip.
Following surgery and a round of antibiotics, the dog made a successful recovery and has since learned to walk on 3 legs. However, had the owner not sought immediate medical attention the dog may have died as the infection continued to spread and reach his vital organs.