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Open Wound on a Dog - Causes and Treatment

Laura García Ortiz
By Laura García Ortiz, Veterinarian specialized in feline medicine. April 25, 2024
Open Wound on a Dog - Causes and Treatment

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Open wounds in dogs are a serious concern, especially due to the risk of secondary infection. Exposed tissues are very vulnerable to bacteria and other pathogens which can spread through their organism. This means even small wounds can develop into something more serious. Generally speaking, the deeper the wound, the more vulnerable they will be. Causes of open wounds in dogs can vary. They are often the result of trauma such as from a fall or a bite from another dog. They can also be the result of diseases which causes sores that rupture and become open wounds. Determining the cause will help us to inform the treatment and best ensure a speedy healing process.

At AnimalWised we look at the causes and treatment of an open wound on a dog. We explain both what we should and should not do if we want to best avoid infection and help the wound heal quickly.

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  1. Causes of open wounds on dogs
  2. How to treat an open wound on a dog
  3. What to avoid with dog wounds

Causes of open wounds on dogs

Wounds occur when damage to tissues in the dog's body occur. These can be closed if the skin remains intact, despite damage to the underlying tissues. In most cases, the wound will be open, meaning the skin is damaged and the underlying tissues are exposed. The deeper the open wound, the more layers of tissue will be exposed.

The extent of the dog's open wound will largely depend on its cause. For example, a wound caused by a fall may not be as deep as one caused by a traffic collision. Especially with street dogs, bites are a common cause of open wounds in dogs. If the bite is superficial, the wound will be shallow. If the dog attacks a vulnerable part of the dog such as their neck, the wound can be deep and even life threatening.

While traumatic injuries are a common cause of open wounds, there are many other possible sources of these types of lesion. Skin diseases such as dermatitis are common causes of open wounds. The size, shape and pattern of the wounds can often indicate a specific disease. These skin diseases can be bacterial, viral, fungal, parasitical or even related to autoimmune diseases.

In addition to external skin diseases in dogs, internal diseases can lead to open wounds. Various tumors and cancers can spread out and result in wounds that break the skin. Internal infections can create abscesses which lead to fistulas to the skin.

In very deep wounds, there is the possibility they can reach down to the bone. If the tissue damage occurs near vital organs or even affects these organs directly, the issue is much more complex. Bacterial infection can also spread to other tissues. It is this risk of infection which is the most pressing issue when treating an open wound on dogs.

Signs a wound is infected include warmth, redness, pus, scabbing and even a foul odor. These signs are a result of the body's immune response, sending cells to deal with the infection which often cause inflammation. The dog will also likely feel pain and will start to lick the wound to relieve the sensation. This causes further risk of infection as bacteria from the dog's mouth can pass to the wound.

When we see an open wound on a dog that starts to show signs of infection, we should take the dog to a veterinarian. The risk of blood poisoning can make the problem an emergency, especially if the dog shows systemic signs such as appetite loss, lethargy or even going into toxic shock.

Learn more about the causes and treatment of dog abscesses with our related article.

How to treat an open wound on a dog

When we first see an open wound on a dog, the first thing we should do is determine its cause. If we determine it to be a minor superficial wound, we can treat it at home with first aid. If it is a deep wound or if we cannot determine the cause, it is necessary to go to a veterinarian for assessment. Due to the risk of secondary infection and the fact that some serious diseases cause open skin lesions, we can do more harm than good if we only treat it at home.

After a veterinarian has determined the cause of the wound, they will carry out the following treatment:

  • Cleaning: when faced with an open wound in dogs, the first thing they will do is to carry out thorough cleaning with water and a suitable antibacterial product.
  • Debridement: in many cases, it also requires the elimination or removal of dead or necrotic tissue located in the area. This is known as debridement and it is designed to promote and speed up healing. It also removes substances that may predispose the dog to infection. This debridement is usually performed by surgical excision of the wound in layers. It will need to avoid damage to the dog's nerves, tendons and bones. Dressings can also be used to absorb dead tissue and debris away from the wound.
  • Saline: we always have to keep in mind that wounds are cleaned from the inside out so that no harmful material remains inside the tissue. This will be carried out with saline solution. It is sometimes injected with a syringe when the wound is deep to apply greater pressure and help remove the remaining material.
  • Disinfection: disinfection of the wound is carried out initially, but it will need to happen again with substances such as betadine for dogs, diluted povidone-iodine or with chlorhexidine. This is because the previous processes can introduce more material which needs removed.
  • Wound closing: whether this happens will depend on the type of open wound. Sometimes a wound may be so deep and wide that it will not easily close on its own. The laxity of the tissue might also be problematic. A delayed primary closure can occur if it does not start to heal after three days, necessitating closure by the vet. Learn more about this procedure with our article on why a dog's wound won't heal.

When traces of foreign material such as broken plant matter, pieces of metal or anything that should not be in the dog's tissue remain, they will need to be removed. This will also be assessed by the veterinarian since trying to remove it ourselves can cause further damage. They may also need to be vaccinated against tetanus due to the increased risk of Clostridium tetani bacteria being spread.

If bacterial infection has occurred in the wound, an effective antibiotic should be given. In addition, the wound should be thoroughly cleaned with antiseptic. The type of antibacterial and antibiotic medications used will need to be determined by the veterinarian. Using the wrong medications can further complicate the clinical picture.

For treatment of superficial lesions, check out our article on how to treat dog wounds at home.

Open Wound on a Dog - Causes and Treatment - How to treat an open wound on a dog

What to avoid with dog wounds

Something that must be taken into account when dealing with raw wounds in dogs is to prevent them from touching, rubbing or biting the wounds. Doing so greatly predisposes bacteria to colonize the open wound, producing an infection and seriously worsening their condition. If left untreated, it is possible the bacteria can spread to the point of causing septicemia or gangrene. In this way, we should never let a dog access their wound.

To try to control or avoid the spread of infection, the Elizabethan collar can be used to prevent the dog having access to the wound. This is especially important to avoid lick granuloma in dogs. Other techniques can be used to prevent infection such as protection suits or even bandages. However, the use of bandages will depend on the type and state of the wound. This is another reason veterinary consultation is necessary.

Another thing we need to avoid is the use of unhelpful or dangerous treatments. Some claim the use of home remedies for wounds in dogs can promote healing, but they are often either ineffective or dangerous. For example, the use of aloe vera can promote bacterial infection and it contains toxic compounds which are bad for the dog when used on open skin.

Rubbing alcohol, soaps and hydrogen peroxide are also contraindicated for use on a dog's open wound. They can harm the tissues, something which is more dangerous when the wound is very deep.

Finally, ignoring general hygiene also needs to be avoided. Although we may clean the dog's wound, if we let them sleep in an unhygienic area with lots of bacteria around, it can undo all our good work. While all dogs should have somewhere clean and comfortable to rest, this is especially so if they have open wounds.

Discover more about the best way to clean dog wounds with our article explaining why chlorhexidine is safe for dogs.

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 Open Wound on a Dog - Causes and Treatment, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

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Open Wound on a Dog - Causes and Treatment