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Wound Care and Treatment for Dogs

Wound Irrigation

The purpose of irrigation is to remove dirt and bacteria. The gentlest and most effective method of wound cleansing is by lavage, which involves irrigating the wound with large amounts of fluid until the tissues are clean and glistening. Do not vigorously cleanse the wound using a brush or gauze pad because this causes bleeding and traumatizes the exposed tissue.

Tap water is an acceptable and convenient irrigating solution. Tap water has a negligible bacterial count and is known to cause less tissue reaction than sterile or distilled water.

The effectiveness of the irrigation is related to the volume and pressure of the fluid used. A bulb syringe is a low-pressure system. It is least effective and requires more fluid to achieve satisfactory irrigation. A large plastic syringe removes a moderate amount of dirt and bacteria. A home Water Pik unit (used by people to clean their teeth) or a commercial lavage unit that provides a high-pressure stream of fluid is the most effective.


Debridement means removing dying tissue and any remaining foreign matter using tissue forceps (tweezers) and scissors or a scalpel. Debridement requires experience to determine the difference between normal and devitalized tissue, and instruments to control hemorrhage and close the wound. Accordingly, wounds that require debridement and closure should be treated by a veterinarian.


Fresh lacerations on the lips, face, eyelids, and ears are best sutured or stapled to prevent infection, minimize scarring, and speed recovery. Lacerations longer than half an inch (1.25 cm) on the body and extremities probably should be closed, but small lacerations may not need to be. Small V-shaped lacerations heal best if they are closed.

Puncture Wounds

Puncture wounds are caused by bites and pointed objects. Animal bites, in particular, are heavily contaminated with bacteria. Bleeding may occur. There may also be bruising, particularly if the dog was picked up in the teeth of a bigger dog and shaken. Puncture wounds are often concealed by the dog’s coat and may be easily overlooked until an abscess develops a few days later.

Treatment of a puncture wound requires a veterinarian. It involves surgically enlarging the skin opening to provide drainage, after which the area is irrigated with a dilute antiseptic surgical solution. These wounds should not be closed.

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