Dog Wound 101: What to Do when Accidents Happen

Imagine the scene: It's a sunny morning and you're walking the dog. Then in a heartbeat everything changes. Another dog runs at yours, grabs hold of their neck, and bites down hard. You manage to separate the pair, but your dog is bleeding and in pain.

What do you do?

Your dog needs veterinary attention, but the vet is some distance away. You need a clear head, so take a deep breath and calm yourself down.

Gently take hold of your dog and attach a lead  (improvise one with a belt or scarf if necessary) so they cannot run away. Speak quietly to reassure your companion while you quickly look them over to assess the injuries. Now, what first aid should you give before heading to the vet? Here are three points to remember as first aid for wounds and cuts.

Assess the injuries

Carefully look for the following signs of trauma:

  • Saliva stained fur: Part the fur to look for punctures in the skin or cuts hidden by the hair.

  • Cuts and wounds: Make a mental note where they are to advise the veterinarian.

  • Bleeding: Prioritize the wounds that are bleeding heavily; if blood is dripping or pumping from a wound, attend to this first.

Look at your dog's gums to check for shock. The gums should be a healthy pink. If they are extremely pale or white, your dog is in shock. Stop the bleeding  and call home for assistance. When help arrives, wrap your buddy in a blanket, and head to the clinic.

Stop the bleeding

Decide which wound is bleeding most heavily and attend to this first.

  • Pumping or squirting blood: This is an arterial bleed and needs immediate attention. Apply pressure directly over the area, pressing down hard enough that the bleeding stops. Keep the pressure on for several minutes. Release the pressure. If it starts again, reapply pressure.

    • Call for help while you keep applying pressure.

    • Improvise a pressure bandage to control the bleeding while you move your dog.

  • Oozing or dripping blood: Again, apply gentle force and hold it in place for several minutes to allow a clot to form. If necessary, improvise a dressing to apply moderate pressure while your help drives you to the vet.

  • Open wounds: If open cuts are not actively bleeding, move onto step 3.

Flush dirty wounds

For the 'walking wounded' where the dog is injured but not in shock, prompt cleaning of wounds reduces the risk of infection.

The golden rule is to use lots of saline solution to physically wash bacteria and contamination off the wound. Use saline solution from your first aid kit, or contact lens cleaning solution, or make up a saltwater solution (¼ tsp of salt to one pint of previously boiled water).

If you don't have saline and a wound is heavily contaminated, use a dilute solution of chlorhexidine to wash the area clean. (There is some controversy about using disinfectants on open wounds as it can damage the exposed tissue, but for very dirty wounds the benefits outweigh the risks).

Take your dog to the vet

Once you've performed immediate first aid… get to the vet. This is especially important for dog bites. Puncture wounds often inoculate bacteria deep beneath the surface, and require the patient to be sedated so the wound can be adequately explored and cleaned.

Remember, don't panic, keep hold of your dog, and stop the worst of the bleeding. Don't be tempted to give human painkillers to them as this can interfere with pain relief the vet wants to administer. And finally, keep your dog warm, phone the vet to warn them you are coming, and then make your way to the clinic.

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