How to clean and care for wounds in your dog or cat


All dogs and cats occasionally get scraped or scratched. So it’s important to know how to clean and care for these wounds at home.

Accidents happen. Our dogs and cats have a knack for getting scrapes, abrasions, and wounds at the least convenient times. Being able to clean and care for simple wounds at home may eliminate the need for emergency veterinary care.


Superficial wounds that do not completely penetrate the skin can generally be treated at home, but even these should be dealt with promptly to ward off infection. Bite wounds and punctures should be cleaned and flushed at home, but will most likely require veterinary care and antibiotics (more on this later). Puncture wounds need to be left open to drain; they should not be sutured unless a large laceration accompanies the puncture.


Before you start

In order to avoid contamination, the dog or cat’s hair should be clipped away from the wound. It is best to use clippers, not scissors, as you do not want to risk cutting the skin. To keep the hair from sticking to the wound, first spread a water-based lubricant (not petroleum-based) over it; this can be gently wiped or flushed away after clipping. You can now flush the wound with saline solution or water.

What to avoid:

•Hydrogen peroxide is often recommended for wound care. However, it is not able to distinguish between good and bad cells within the wound. The peroxide kills all cells, including the white blood cells that help fight infection. This slows healing, making the wound stay open longer, and can lead to more infection.

wounds - vet care• Alcohol is also commonly recommended. While it is true that alcohol can minimize germ activity within the wound surface, it will also burn the skin. Skin cells can be damaged when put in contact with rubbing alcohol, and the swelling and itching that result might be misread as inflammatory symptoms. As well, alcohol applied to open wounds is extremely painful for the patient.

• Soaps and shampoos containing detergents and fragrances should not be used to clean open wounds.

• Dilute chlorhexidine is recommended by many veterinarians for use as an antiseptic, but studies have shown that it actually inhibits wound healing and causes cellular damage within the wound. A resistant bacterium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, can also grow in wounds treated with chlorhexidine. In one study comparing the use of water, saline, and chlorhexidine for wound cleaning, all wounds treated with chlorhexidine developed Pseudomonas infection, whereas the water and saline-treated wounds were not infected.

What to use:

• Water or saline (saltwater) should be the first choice for cleaning a wound. Flushing the wound will wash away debris and bacteria. Flushing also applies a gentle pressure to the cells surrounding the wound, which stimulates healing by increasing blood flow and bringing white blood cells and oxygen-carrying red blood cells to the area to fight infection. Saline or water provides moisture and cleans the wound without causing cell damage. When used correctly, saline has the same composition as body tissue.

Helpful advice: To make a saline solution for wound care, add 1⁄2 teaspoon salt to one cup of boiling water. Stir to dissolve and allow
the mixture to cool. Make a fresh solution each time you want to clean the wound.

• Antiseptic solutions that can be applied to superficial wounds after cleaning include:

  • Dilute iodine such as betadine Witch hazel — should only
    be used on superficial cuts, abrasions and bruises, as it may cause more inflammation in deeper wounds
  • Herbal solutions — an herbal paste of extra virgin olive oil mixed with ground calendula flowers or comfrey leaves will help wounds heal and ward off infection

A study on wound healing performed in India showed that Manuka honey provided the best antimicrobial and healing benefits, while turmeric paste was a close second. Both treatments provided anti-inflammatory effects; promoted healing through the formation of new blood vessels and skin to cover the wound, and decreased bacterial infection.

Whenever your dog or cat acquires a wound, the first thing to do
is determine whether you can care for it yourself, or if he needs veterinary attention. If you’re in any doubt, call your vet. If it’s just a minor abrasion, however, following the suggestions in this article helps ensure it will heal quickly and properly at home.

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