Step-By-Step Wound Care for a Dog at Home and When to Call the Vet
As much as a pet parent tries to protect their furry friend, sometimes accidents happen. On occasion — during rigorous playtime, when interacting with other dogs, or in many other possible scenarios — dogs become injured.
Here are some important things to know about how to care for dog wounds and when to call the vet—so your furkid can heal and feel better as quickly as possible.
Common Types of Dog Wounds and How They’re Treated
A wound is any injury where the skin (and possibly other body tissues) is damaged. Closed wounds include injuries such as bruising, while open wounds involve bleeding or openings in the skin.
Dog wounds might include cuts, scrapes, burns, bites, hot spots, and more, ranging from mild to severe in nature. Care plans are variable and depend on exactly what the wound needs to heal best and avoid complications.
Here are some examples of the types of wounds a dog might experience…
Minor Cuts and Abrasions
Minor lacerations (cuts) or abrasions (scrapes) are probably the most common injuries that dogs receive.
Potential causes include a sharp object (branch or fencing) catching the skin as a dog runs by, stumbles or collisions during enthusiastic play, walking on abrasive terrain, etc.
Large or Deep Cuts
Deep cuts penetrate further through the skin, potentially damaging tissue or organs underneath.
The more open or deep a wound is, the higher the complication risk and the more likely veterinary care is required. Some wounds may require sutures (stitches) to heal properly.
Bite and Puncture Wounds
Although they might appear small, bite wounds and puncture wounds can be some of the most serious wounds veterinarians treat. Often, what you see is only the tip of the iceberg.
One possible risk is infection. Sharp teeth or objects can deposit bacteria deep into a wound. Although the skin heals, the infection brews underneath—resulting in a sick pet or a wound that swells and bursts.
Small-but-deep wounds (bites, gunshots, sharp objects, etc.) over the thorax (chest) or abdomen can also cause damage to internal organs. Often not obvious initially, this damage can cause serious complications.
While rare, rabies disease is life-threatening to humans and pets alike following animal bites, particularly bites from wild animals or pets whose vaccination status is unknown. Your vet can advise you of any risks and guide you on next steps. Always keep your pet’s vaccinations up to date, too!
Hot spots are moist, shallow wounds from a dog licking their skin repeatedly. Common causes are skin allergies, skin injuries, or stress.
These wounds usually aren’t serious. But they’re uncomfortable and can get worse or become infected without treatment.
Burns occur when heat damages the skin.
Common causes include kitchen or grilling accidents, candles or flames, or other heat sources—even sunburn.
Until the surgical incision is healed, there’s a risk of it opening up or becoming infected if not properly monitored and cared for.
Supplies to Keep On Hand for Dog Wound Care
First aid kits can help a dog owner be prepared—especially for wounds that happen after hours, when pharmacies are closed. They’re also a great thing to take along when traveling with your pup.
Here are some key items that should be kept in a doggy first aid kit, specifically for the purpose of wound care…
A muzzle that prevents your dog from biting, but is loose enough that your pal can breathe and pant comfortably. Basket-style muzzles are a good option.
A wound cleaning solution (see below for recommendations).
A large syringe to spray the cleaning solution, or a clean bowl for soaking.
A water-based lubricant like KY jelly.
Bandaging supplies, including…
Sterile gauze or dressing.
Cotton roll or bandage padding.
Elastic wrapping such as VetWrap.
Tweezers in case of splinters or other foreign material.
What Should I Clean My Dog’s Wound With?
Non-stinging antiseptic solutions are ideal. Look for 2% chlorhexidine or povidone-iodine.
Epsom salt soaks work for some wounds, especially paw injuries. In a pinch, warm tap water is fine for rinsing wounds, too.
Avoid alcohol (it burns!) and hydrogen peroxide. They can slow wound healing. Also, avoid substances like herbal products unless specifically recommended by your vet.
For wounds near the eyes, povidone-iodine is ideal. Chlorhexidine can damage the eyes.
What Should I Put On My Dog’s Wound?
Triple antibiotic ointment works well. Other antimicrobial ointments designed for pets (silver sulfadiazine or Manuka honey) can also help for minor wounds.
In general, hydrocortisone or similar creams aren’t recommended for wounds like cuts. But they might be effective for an itchy hot spot.
Is It Okay if My Dog Licks the Wound?
No—this isn’t recommended. A dog’s licking might interfere with healing by opening the wound up again, making it worse, or introducing an infection.
To prevent your dog licking, use an Elizabethan collar. Protective clothing like a t-shirt or wound cover designed for dogs can also help, but might not be a strong enough barrier if your pup is determined to lick.
Step-By-Step Wound Care for Dogs at Home
Any wound—even simple ones—can turn serious if infections or other complications develop. Always monitor the wound’s healing process and seek veterinary care if things don’t seem right.
Never give medications to your dog without prior veterinary approval. Many are toxic to dogs or cause additional complications.
With that in mind, here is the process for dog wound care at home…
Step 1: Secure the Animal
Even the sweetest of pets might bite when in pain, so a muzzle is a good idea. Gentle but firm restraint prevents wiggling and allows proper wound assessment and treatment without additional injuries.
Minor discomfort is to be expected. But a pet repeatedly struggling and trying to bite might mean they’re too painful and a veterinary visit would be better.
Step 2: Assess the Wound
Is there a scrape or cut? A puncture or bite? Is there bleeding?
Knowing what you’re dealing with helps determine appropriate wound care and whether a veterinary visit is needed (more on this below).
Step 3: Stop the Bleeding
Direct pressure is the most effective way to stop bleeding.
If the bleeding doesn’t stop, veterinary care is needed. A pressure wrap can be placed to slow bleeding and prevent further wound contamination on the way to the vet clinic.
Place bandage gauze or a clean cloth over the area. Apply pressure with your hand, or wrap with cotton roll and secure the padding in place with elastic bandage wrap.
Step 4: Trim Away Surrounding Hair
Fur removal allows you to see the wound and keep it clean. Otherwise, fluid, blood or debris can accumulate in the fur around a wound, sometimes covering the wound entirely. This invites bacteria to settle in and cause problems. It also makes monitoring difficult.
To prevent this, start by placing KY lube over the wound. The gel traps little pieces of fur so they’re easier to wash away.
Next, shave or trim the fur surrounding the wound area using electric clippers.
Fur doesn’t need to be trimmed all the way to the skin, but close to it. Quiet clippers designed for pets are ideal, but human hair trimmers can also work. Use a protective guard and check that the blades don’t overheat.
Avoid scissors. They’re a common cause of accidentally cutting a pet’s skin.
Step 5: Flush and Clean the Wound
Cleaning removes both visible and microscopic debris, as well as bacterial contamination.
See above for recommended cleaning solutions. Rinse or soak the affected area.
Step 6: Treat and Cover the Wound
Place antibiotic ointment on the area, then apply a sterile gauze pad. Wrap the area with soft cotton roll (especially for limb, tail, or paw injuries—this might be challenging with wounds on the torso). Then, place an elastic wrap or adhesive tape.
Pressure should be firm enough to slow bleeding and keep the bandage in place, but not so tight that it causes pain or cuts off circulation to the area.
Step 7: Provide Ongoing Daily Care and Monitoring
Check the wound at least once daily. Make sure the bandage is in place, dry and clean, and undamaged, with no signs of cutting off circulation (for example, discoloration, coldness, or swelling of the limb/paw beyond the bandage).
Clean the wound 1-3 times daily and place a clean bandage.
Prevent your dog from licking or scratching the wound. Use an Elizabethan collar.
Always treat your pup kindly and patiently, and reward them with their favorite treat or special attention when they are good for their wound care.
When to Call the Vet and How They Can Help
When in doubt, be on the safe side and seek a veterinary consultation when you’re unsure—rather than potentially missing a serious issue.
Here are some general guidelines for when veterinary care is needed…
Deep injuries or ones that fully penetrate the skin.
Bleeding that won’t stop.
Your pet is overly stressed or struggling, or you’re worried you might get bitten.
Deep puncture wounds, especially in the chest or abdominal area.
Injuries covering a large area of the body.
Signs of infection: redness, swelling, excessive pain, red streaking in the skin, pus or excessive drainage, bad odors, discoloration, etc.
Clues that your dog is ill or very painful: limping, lethargy, fever, excessive crying or whining, etc.
A veterinary team will assess your dog’s wound, provide appropriate pain relief, and discuss a plan for treatment. Depending on the nature and severity of your pet’s injury, this might include one or more of the following steps…
Wound cleaning and bandaging.
Prescription medications for pain relief and treating infections.
Topical ointments, sprays, creams, or washes.
A bacterial culture to determine the most effective type of antibiotic.
Sedation or general anesthesia for full wound evaluation, decontamination, and surgical closure (sutures or stitches).
Sometimes, contaminated or infected wounds must be left open for drainage for a period of time.
Ongoing daily care and monitoring (as described above). Specific instructions depend on your individual pet’s needs. Follow all of your veterinarian’s recommendations, including follow-up visits and bandage changes.
Fortunately, with prompt care, most dog wounds heal just fine! And your furry friend can get back to running, playing, and cuddling in no time.