Treating Dog Bite Wounds at Home: First Aid for Puncture Wounds
I am not a licensed veterinarian. If your dog has a serious wound, please seek out a vet.
For non-puncture wounds (i.e. slash/cut wounds), please see Using Superglue for Wounds, to learn how we treated our most recent dog fight injury.
In Treating Dog Bite Wounds at Home: Our History, you learned about Trooper’s dog encounters and how they were handled by veterinarians. Then, in Obtaining & Treating a Dog Bite: Sydney’s Adventure, you read about Sydney’s (mis)adventure in the woods that led to a hidden puncture wound on her back leg.
So there we were, late on a Monday night, dog bite puncture wound staring me in the face. Sydney acted like nothing was going on, giving me no sense of urgency, so I had to make a few decisions.
Fortunately for Sydney, I was focused on her health during the first few days and not on the blog. But that means I forgot to grab early pictures. This photo was taken one or two days after finding the wound. Notice the torn flesh, swollen area and general ‘angry’ appearance.
Emergency Vet or Not?
At that point, I strongly wanted to go to the vet. The wound was closing up and I could tell the tissue underneath was not cleaned out (i.e. it was swollen and puffy). Puncture wounds can cause serious infection and problems. Because the canine teeth are sharp and narrow, they can cause a deep wound that closes on the surface relatively quickly. Bacteria from the other dog’s mouth (plus bacteria from their lifestyle) can make its home in the wound prior to the closure and cause infection that may go unnoticed.
While part of me wanted to go to the vet, part of me rebelled at the thought of paying for someone else to clean the wound. I knew they wouldn’t be stitching her up. They would just be fighting infection. Plus, if I went in the middle of the night (which it was), I’d be paying an expensive emergency bill. Not exactly enticing.
Meanwhile, Sydney was licking her wound pretty much constantly. Since I had shaved her hair and exposed it, it was now her prime focus. I was worried about her mouth being grimy so I rinsed the wound with hydrogen peroxide and put a cone on her head so she couldn’t lick it off.
It’s completely natural to think your dog’s mouth is dirty. Look at what they walk through….and then they lick their body!
The Options for Healing – Medicine vs. Nature
The next morning, with shops now open, I decided to give her wound a more thorough cleaning. I got a little assistance with my plan from this youtube video. I went to the local pharmacy and picked up sterile saline wound wash, betadine and a syringe. I created a solution with the two liquids and used the syringe to rinse out the wound. The syringe allows for greater pressure so you can really dislodge the bacteria. I also used the tip of the syringe to push back the skin at the surface, effectively re-opening the wound a little to allow for deeper solution penetration. I applied a topical antibiotic ointment and then felt very proud of myself. Gold star for being a good dog mom.
After a day of cleaning the wound every few hours, I didn’t notice a big change. Probably too early to notice. Then Brian entered the scene. Brian, my wonderful boyfriend, is great at knocking me off my high horse of “empowered knowledge” when I need it (and sometimes when I don’t need it). He thought my medicinal efforts were unnecessary and that Sydney was better off being allowed to lick it herself.
How preposterous! How could her filthy mouth keep her wound clean?!? How could anything be better than cleaning the wound, slathering antibiotic ointment on it and putting a cone on her so the wound could heal free from her interference? Then he asked a good question – what do you think wolves do? Do you think a wolf gets a bite and then dies? Or do you think they have some way to deal with it?
True, they might be able to handle a wound and keep on, keepin on, but that doesn’t mean they treated it the best they could. Right? Well, thanks to google, I now know all about the powers of canine saliva!
Sydney’s wound about a week after the dog fight. After one day of ‘medicinal’ treatment, she was allowed to lick it whenever she felt like it. Notice the tidier edges around the puncture holes and the total lack of swelling.
Wound Licking – Good or Bad?
Sydney licking her wound.
From what I’ve read online, some people are very strongly against allowing their dog to lick while others believe a dog can handle minor wounds. You can read all about the opinions of others here and here as well as the Wikipedia’s summary. There are vets and regular Joe’s on both sides of the argument.
If you’re anything like me, your dog rests in a special place, very close to your heart. I don’t have children. My dogs (and Fred at times) are my children and I love them to pieces. I would never want to make a decision that benefits my convenience at the sake of their health and happiness.
That being said, I also believe that in the absence of interference, many situations will run their course in a beneficial way. Yes, there are exceptions to this and yes, modern medicine is a wonderful thing. But as someone who has received completely invalid, inappropriate advice from a medical professional and also made wonderful progress with a self-designed treatment plan, I now assess every situation with both options available. That is not to say I avoid doctors and brew witch potion in my kitchen. It just means that I attempt to listen to my body and consider my personal situation first. Then I consider the advice of others – Brian’s advice included.
So after considering my options, I decided to keep a close eye on the wound but let Sydney doctor it in the way she felt was best. She didn’t obsessively lick it all the time, but in the first few days it was pretty often. The wound continued to improve in appearance and she didn’t develop any symptoms of infection. In fact, her activity level didn’t change much during the whole experience.
I hope you have a trusted veterinarian you can turn to in times of stress. But I also hope you trust yourself when the situation is something you can manage – your dog will be happier at home under simple ‘natural’ treatment than being taken back and forth to the vet and put on medication.
I’d love to hear of others’ experience when it comes to handling dog bite wounds. Please feel free to comment below!
Trooper & Brian during a hike in Western Mass. Look at those pants (Trooper’s of course)!