What to do when your Vail Valley pet gets injured!
Wounds and Lacerations: What to do when your dog gets injured
Although we do our best as pet owners to keep our canine companions as safe and healthy as possible, there will inevitably be an occasion when your dog gets involved in rambunctious play or adventuring where they will acquire a major or minor wound. As stressful as this situation can be, it is important to have a plan and be prepared to handle the necessary first steps in wound care until you can transport your dog to a veterinarian to be treated.
One of the most common injuries that we see in dogs is torn toenails. Torn nails can range from mild cracking to complete loss of the nail that can extend all the way back into the nail bed near the skin. This type of injury tends to incite a large amount of bleeding which is important to attempt to control as you make your way to your veterinarian’s office for assessment. Applying small amounts of cornstarch or flour to the bleeding nail can help speed up the clotting process and stem the flow of blood. If available, you can wrap your dog’s foot with a roll of gauze and cover with a sock or bootie to protect the area. Keeping your pet calm, relaxed, and as still as possible will help keep their blood pressure from rising and keep the clot from being disturbed. Allowing your veterinarian to evaluate the torn nail is important, because if left untreated the nail bed can become infected which can sometimes lead to a severe ascending infection into the skin or bone of the toe. Treatment often includes pain medication and antibiotics, as well as cutting the nail back very short, cauterizing the bleeding vessels, and placing a bandage that will need to be changed several times.
Another common occurrence, especially in locations with extensive opportunities for outdoor activities, is traumatic lacerations from sharp objects in the environment such as sticks, branches, metal or wire fencing, etc. This can happen anywhere, but it is important to have first-aid materials with you for yourself and your dog if you are planning on going on a long hike, camping trip, backcountry ski trip, or other adventures such as these. Lacerations on the limbs or paws of your pet should be cleaned with water or hydrogen peroxide, and gauze or bandaging material used to stop any bleeding. On areas that are more difficult to place a bandage such as the head, chest, or abdomen, you can clean the area and apply pressure for up to 5 minutes until major bleeding has stopped. If your dog is able to walk to the nearest form of transportation you have access to, go at a slow pace and ensure that the movement is not causing the wound to bleed excessively or causing any undue pain. Carrying your dog in your arms or over your shoulders may be necessary--if you have a very large dog, a dog sling can be one of the most efficient methods for carrying your pet and there are slings available that take up very little space in a pack when not in use.
Once your pet appears stable and you are in an area where you can contact the closest veterinary hospital, let the hospital staff know what occurred, where you are, and any pre-existing health conditions your dog may have so they can adequately prepare for your arrival. If you think the wound may need sutures, it is best for a veterinarian to perform this with your dog under sedation. This allows for proper exploration of the wound, cleaning, and closure of the laceration site. Depending on the location of the injury, your veterinarian may decide to place a drain to prevent abscess formation. This is because dogs have much more subcutaneous tissue (tissue between skin and muscle) than humans, which allows fluid and bacteria to collect and cause infection if the area is not able to drain properly. Again, pain medications and antibiotics will likely be prescribed and the laceration bandaged if appropriate.
Even though we hope our pet never needs to experience care for wounds or lacerations, it is best to be prepared and have a plan for when things do not go quite as expected. One of the most important things to do is to stay calm because your dog will pick up on your emotions, and we want them to stay as relaxed as possible. Next, try to evaluate and clean the wound, and stop any major bleeding as much as possible. Then call your veterinarian or the closest local veterinary hospital for further advice and treatment options to get your pet on the best road to recovery.