My Dog's Stitches Are Infected
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The convalescence period for a dog after surgery will depend on various factors which will be best determined by your veterinarian. The most routine surgical procedure for dogs is neutering, usually castration for males and spaying for females. Although invasive, it is a common operation which rarely has complications. While neutering wounds usually heal within 10-14 days, it is possible for infections to occur. It is for this reason postoperative care is so important and guardians need to meet their responsibility of care as best as possible. The same applies to any type of invasive surgery in dogs.
At AnimalWised, we look at what happens if my dog's stitches are infected. We find out how to treat this problem and what we can do to prevent it.
How to know if my dog's suture is infected
Only qualified veterinary surgeons should be allowed to perform surgery on a dog. As invasive surgeries, spaying and neutering require an incision in the dog's skin and the subsequent removal of sexual organs. Once the relevant ligations have been carried out, the incision will be sutured. This requires stitches to close the wound. This incision site will be on the abdomen or scrotum, for females and males respectively.
Other veterinary surgeries may be located in other areas of the dog's body, but the same basic principles apply. After a successful suture of an incision, you should be able to see:
- A clean incision can be seen.
- The edges of the wound are perfectly in contact.
- The edges of the wound may be slightly thickened.
- There may be a light, fluid, clear discharge.
- The skin color around the wound is pinkish or slightly reddish.
Although the sutures should close up the incision, the site will be vulnerable until it heals. When the stitches become infected, we will likely see the following:
- Redness and swelling around the wound which doesn't improve after time
- Fever or heat around the wound
- Pain when the incision site is touched
- Swollen regional lymph nodes
- Abnormal discharge
- Foul odor
- Delayed healing
- Wound dehiscence (wound breaks open)
It is normal for there to be a light, fluid and transparent discharge after surgery. When this discharge becomes purulent or bloody, it means the stitches have become infected. An infection prevents the correct healing of the tissues, which is why infected surgical wounds take longer than usual to heal. The infection is exacerbated if the wound breaks open. This can penetrate deeper into the tissue and also provides risk of blood poisoning (sepsis).
Why are my dogs stitches infected?
The cause of a dog's suture becoming infected is usually bacterial. Although the stitches close the incision, the wound is still somewhat exposed. It is possible for a fungal infection to affect wound stitches, but it is much less common. When a dog's stitches are infected, it is usually for one of the following reasons:
- Poor asepsis conditions: to avoid post-surgical infections, surgery must be performed under strict asepsis conditions. The operation theater must be rigorously disinfected, sterile materials must be sued and surgical instruments also need to be sterilized. In some cases, new instruments are needed at different stages of a procedure, especially if the surgery involves the gastrointestinal tract. If these conditions are not suitably met, it can result in bacteria being introduced to the wound. Meeting this responsibility is the most basic level of care from a veterinarian.
- Existence of dead spaces: surgical wounds must be closed by stitches from the inside out. This will help to avoid dead spaces in the tissue. These are spaces remaining in the wound after surgical closure and they can promote infection.
- Use of inadequate suture materials: multifilament or braided sutures are both easier to use and cheaper, but they also have a higher risk of infection. They should not be used on infected wounds, nor when there is suspicion of infection.
- Lack of antibiotic prophylaxis: although it is not always necessary, there are certain situations in which antibiotic treatment should be administered during and/or after surgery to prevent infections. Antibiotic therapy should be established in procedures that are associated with a high probability of postoperative infection of the wound. An example is when surgical intervention is required for a wound which has already been exposed to bacteria, when the animal is immunosuppressed for some reason or if they have a metabolic disease.
- Inadequate postoperative care: various types of postoperative care are required to minimize the risk of the stitches becoming infected. Properly dressing the wound and redressing when necessary are some of the most important aspects, but we also need to maintain proper hygiene. Since dogs often want to lick the wound site to reduce irritation, we may need to use an Elizabethan collar to prevent this. Maintaining general hygiene is important.
Take a look at our related article on the complications after neutering a dog to know some of the other reasons a dog's stitches may become infected.
What to do if my dog's stitches are infected
If you suspect that your dog's stitches have become infected due to the presence of the symptoms detailed above, it is important you take your dog to the veterinary center. They will be able to both determine whether an infection is present, as well as the extent of its severity. Ideally, you should take them to the clinic which performed the surgery.
Treatment of the dog's infected stitches will depend on factors such as the degree of healing, whether the sutures remain intact and the presence of purulent discharge. Based on an initial examination, treatment will likely be one of the following:
- Antibiotic treatment: in the event of mild clinical signs and wounds in which the suture has not been opened, the establishment of systemic antibiotic therapy may be sufficient.
- Surgical treatment: in more serious cases or when the suture has failed, it is necessary to complement the antibiotic treatment with a new surgical intervention. This will be used to thoroughly clean the wound and remove dead and infected tissue.
Caring for a dog's infected stitches
In addition to complying with the treatment established by the veterinarian, it is necessary to manage the infected wound. In very severe cases, the dog will be hospitalized to stabilize their system. In the vast majority of cases, we will need to treat the wound infection at home.
There are various products which can be used to disinfect and clean the stitches, but not all are advisable for your dog. Betadine (povidone-iodine) for dogs or chlorhexidine for dogs are the best canine antiseptic products. Betadine must be diluted to a 10% solution and chlorhexidine needs to be diluted to a 40% solution. Higher concentrations can damage the tissue. In no case should alcohol or hydrogen peroxide be used for wound cleaning as they can cause cell death and further delay wound healing.
The stitches should be cleaned gently with a gauze soaked in antiseptic (betadine or chlorhexidine). Exudates, scabs or remains of dead tissue should be removed, so we may need to apply a little more pressure. It is preferable not to use cotton, since it can leave residues in the wound. Cleaning should be repeated 2 or 3 times a day.
Dressings and/or light bandages should be used to prevent the dog from licking or scratching the wound. An Elizabethan collar may also be required to prevent the dog from touching the wound.
How to care for a dog's incision stitches
In the post-operative period, it is important to perform proper wound care until the tissues heal. Generally, the stitches are removed 10-14 days after surgery, although the time can vary depending on several factors.
For proper management of the surgical wound, the following points should be considered:
- Cleaning of the wound: the dressings help reduce the microbial load that is in and around the wound. Cleaning should be done twice a day with a gauze soaked in diluted betadine or chlorhexidine. If small crusts form, it is advisable to gently remove them with a gauze soaked in antiseptic. In no case should products such as alcohol or hydrogen peroxide be used. They are very irritating and cause cell death, delaying wound healing. To clean the stitches in dogs we will follow the steps mentioned in the previous section.
- Apply dressings and/or bandages: dressings help maintain an optimal level of moisture in the wound, which promotes healing. In addition, we must bear in mind that the animals will try to touch and lick the wound, so it is also convenient to place light dressings or bandages to prevent the animal from touching the wound.
- Use an Elizabethan collar: provides a physical barrier to prevent the animal from licking or scratching the wound.
- Comply with the antibiotic treatment: provided that the veterinarian has prescribed an antibiotic treatment in the post-surgical period. This means using the correct antibiotic for the bacteria in the wound. We should never used antibiotics formulated for human medicine.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to My Dog's Stitches Are Infected, we recommend you visit our First aid category.
- Sopena, J. (2011). Medical-surgical treatment of wounds, application in dermatology I and II. Tenth Congress of Veterinary Specialties, AVEPA.