How to Clean a Dog Wound

Published June 2, 2019
Dog with head bandage

Providing basic first aid for your dog can include cleaning up minor wounds. In cases of small scrapes and cuts, you can eliminate the stress of going to the vet for your dog with some simple steps.

Assessing the Wound

Before you do any cleaning, it's important to assess the wound to make sure this is something you can safely care for at home or if your dog needs veterinary attention. Nellie Hatton, a Registered Veterinary Technician, advises dog owners to see if the wound, "enters beyond the first layer of skin into the subcutaneous layers and is larger than .5 centimeters, is profusely bleeding, or is a puncture." If any of these are the case, "it is always better to get a veterinarian's assessment." Other signs the wound needs veterinary treatment is pus coming from the wound and red, inflamed skin surrounding it.

The Importance of a Vet Treating Serious Wounds

While dog owners may be concerned about cost, Hatton cautions that, "An exam fee is far less than the surgical debridement of a wound that was left 'to heal on its own' and becomes infected." She also urges owners to bring their dog to a vet if the wound involves a broken toenail. "They are quite painful and because dogs are in contact with the ground all the time, it increases the risk for infection."

Dog Wound Cleaning Prep

Before you begin cleaning a wound, you should gather all the supplies that you'll need in one place. For your homemade first aid kit you will need:

  • Scissors, razor, or dog clippers to trim fur away from the wounded area

  • Warm water, which can be a sink or tub filled with water if you do the cleaning in a bathroom. Otherwise you can use a bucket or deep bowl.

  • Towels such as regular cloth towels or paper towels

  • An antiseptic cleaning solution such as chlorhexidine spray, pre-moistened wipes, or Vetericyn Wound & Skin Care Treatment. Hatton suggests, "Saline is by far the best and most universal for wound lavage and is safe. You can use chlorhexidine solution or iodine solution diluted at a 1:40 ratio."

  • A water-based lubricant like KY jelly

  • An antimicrobial ointment such as Triple Antibiotic Ointment. If your dog has an allergic skin condition, you may want to use miconazole ointment instead although this requires a prescription.

  • Protective disposable gloves

  • Bandages like rolled veterinary wrap or sterilized gauze squares

  • A muzzle if you're concerned your dog may become anxious and fearful. If you don't have one and you're worried about being bitten, you can make a temporary one with a leash.

Items to Avoid Using On Your Dog

Some items traditionally used in a first aid kit are actually ones you should avoid according to Hatton.

  • Veterinary staff instruct dog owners not to use hydrogen peroxide because, "It's traumatic to healthy tissue."

  • Vaseline should also be avoided anywhere near the wound.

  • She also advises against using chlorhexidine if the dog's wound is, "around the eyes or mucus membranes," in which case, "saline is the safest bet." A saline solution for cleaning can be made with one cup of boiling water mixed with a ½ teaspoon of salt, or you can purchase it pre-made from a pharmacy.

  • She prefers dog owners not use tap water but, "if it is the only solution you have, it is ok for small superficial lacerations and wounds but shouldn't be used for deep wounds or punctures."

  • Neosporin can be used on dogs but, "it's not always the first choice. Dog, of course, lick and we don't want them licking a wound and licking off the antibiotic ointment." She also cautions Neosporin should never be used around or in the dog's eyes. It also should not be used in the ears or in large wounds and punctures. Never use the version that contains painkillers as these can be toxic to your dog.

Cleaning a Dog Wound Step by Step

Keep in mind if your dog is wounded he may become nervous so you want to work slowly and calmly to keep him relaxed. It's best to find a small room to do this in such as a bathroom, or laundry room. Having a second person to help you hold onto your dog as well as distract him with treats can make the process go much smoother.

Bandaging a shetland sheepdog
  1. Wash your hands thoroughly and put on your gloves.

  2. For a small dog, see if you can place him on top of a table or countertop for easier access. With a larger dog you will most likely have to kneel down and do the wound care with him on the floor.

  3. Use some of the water-based lubricant to smooth the fur near the wound. You may need to get some on the wounded area in order to remove fur.

  4. Use your scissors, razor or electric clippers to shave the area. Clippers are the preferred method as you're less likely to further cut the wound but you can use scissors or a razor if you go slowly and cautiously.

  5. Take your towel to remove as much excess lubricant and fur as you can. You can wipe on the areas around the wound but use a gentle daubing motion when touching the wound as this will be quite sore for the dog.

  6. Use either the warm water or a cleaning solution like saline or the chlorhexidine and water mix (preferred method) to wash any dirt, fur, and other debris that might be in the wound. Depending on the size of the dog, you can try pouring the solution on the wound, or using a turkey baster or syringe to flush the wounded area.

  7. Once the wound appears clean, gently daub the area where the wound is with a dry towel and wipe the surrounding areas.

  8. Put a small amount of antiseptic solution on the area, which will help to continue keeping the area free of bacteria.

  9. Take the antimicrobial ointment and put a very thin layer onto the wound. This will help keep the wound free of bacteria and help it to heal faster.

  10. You may want to bandage the area to keep it protected although depending on where the wound is, it may be difficult for the bandage to stay put. If you're concerned about your dog licking the wounds, you can use an Elizabethan collar to prevent him from doing so.

  11. Check the wound twice a day to make sure it's still clean and to use more antiseptic spray, wipes, or cream. If the wound looks worse when you check it and you see any signs of infection, contact your veterinarian right away.

Natural Methods of Wound Cleaning

Using a saline solution is one acceptable cleaning method that is completely natural. Another option is Calendula officinalis, which has antimicrobial properties and can be used for minor dog wounds in either the gel, oil, or ointment formulas. You can also make a solution for cleaning minor wounds with calendula and symphytum, also known as comfrey.

Dog in a blue elizabethan collar

To make the solution:

  1. Use the dried flower form of calendula and dried leaves of symphytum and combine in a glass jar, such as a mason jar.

  2. Add some olive oil and close the jar tightly.

  3. Put the jar in a dark, cool area of the house and leave it alone for at least six weeks.

  4. Take the solution and strain it. The remaining solution can be applied to small wounds that do not require a vet visit.

Caring for Your Dog's Wound

Once your dog's wound has been cleaned, it's important to keep an eye on it daily to look for signs of concern, such as infection or further tearing of the skin. Look as well for other symptoms such as lethargy, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, and bloody stools as any of these can indicate a deeper infection. Always err on the side of caution and if you feel any concern at all about your dog's condition, contact your veterinary clinic right away.

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How to Clean a Dog Wound