As your dog approaches you, you notice that he’s limping and bleeding. You notice an open wound on his leg. Do you know what to do?
Dogs can get into all kinds of scrapes, and sometimes these can result in scary wounds, needing veterinarian attention. Here's what you need to know about how to treat dog wounds. You'll be able to stop your dog's bleeding so you can get them to the vet.
Lacerations on Dogs
A laceration is an open cut, and dogs can get them from other dogs as bite wounds or from having been hit with something, even hit by a car.
If you don’t know the source of your dog’s injury, or didn't see the incident that caused the dog’s wound, there’s no way to know if your pet's injuries are more extensive without taking them to a veterinarian. A dog that’s been hit by a car may show a few minor-looking cuts or abrasions but also may be suffering from internal bleeding.
Approaching and treating Your Wounded Dog
Handling an injured dog, no matter how sweet or tame they normally are, can be tricky. To examine and clean the dog’s wound, you’ll probably need to muzzle them. You can make makeshift muzzles from nylons, socks, or a cotton lead or leash if you don't have one.
If the wound is clean, you won’t need to clean it. But if it is dirty, you should clean it by irrigation with a saline (sterile salt water) solution. If you don’t have saline on hand, you can use emergency chemical eye wash solutions or even saline solutions used for cleaning contacts.
Once the wound is clean, you’ll be able to better assess the bleeding. For bleeding wounds, you’ll need to apply pressure. Use a clean towel or shirt, or, if you have it in a first aid kit, clean gauze. Apply pressure for 3 minutes. If the wound is still bleeding and it is located on a leg or tail, you can apply a tourniquet. But if the wound is elsewhere, you’ll have to continue to apply pressure.
Applying a Tourniquet to a Leg or Tail
If the bleeding is from an artery, it will be pumping out with a strong pulse with each heart beat. Its color will be bright red. If the bleeding is coming from a vein, the blood will not be spurting and the color will be a darker red. You may need to apply a tourniquet (using a bandana, torn shirt or towel, or a nylon, etc.) to stop the bleeding. Blood clot suspension such as Clotisol for dogs can also quickly control bleeding induced by minor cuts and wounds.
For pulsing bleeding coming from an artery, the tourniquet needs to be applied between the wound and the heart, to keep the blood from pulsing so much. The opposite is true to stop bleeding from a vein. For vein bleeding, you should apply the tourniquet below the wound, away from the heart.
Tourniquets should be tight enough to slow or stop the bleeding, but you must loosen the tourniquet every 15 minutes for about 10 seconds at a time to allow circulation to return. If not, your dog could lose all circulation to the rest of their leg or tail, and could chance losing the extremity later as a result of those injuries.
Now your dog is ready for transport to the veterinarian. They may or may not need stitches, and your veterinarian will be able to tell if their injuries are more extensive.
Being prepared for a situation such as this means having a first aid kit. You can also make sure that you have a muzzle handy as well as saline, clean gauze, and other items to be used in case you might need to make a tourniquet always at the ready.
More on Emergency Pet Care
How to Treat a Cat's Wound
A Guide to Pet First Aid Kits
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.