Do you know how to care for your pet’s bandage?
And I mean properly care — not just keeping it dry (although this is hugely important), but recognizing when it’s too tight or chafing the pet.
In a strange serendipity, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, and I had a similar thought at the same time (see her great article on post-op care). Hardly a surprise, I guess. In the summer sun, when our pet pals are out and about, the number of cut pads and fight injuries goes sky-high.
But in this article, I wanted to share some practical suggestions for caring for a bandage and how to keep a dog with a dressing from going stir-crazy.
1. Keep the Dressing Dry
Picture this: The patient’s dressing is gray with road dirt. The bandage feels damp.
Removing the first layer of bandage, the padding underneath is sodden, like cotton wool soaked in water (which is precisely what it is), only gray. The padding tears away to reveal swollen skin, macerated by the constant contact with water.
When you soak in the bath, your fingertips become wrinkled and prune-like. This is called maceration. It happens when the skin is exposed to water for too long.
For a dog or cat’s paw, this weakens the skin and leads to infection. The message being, when it’s wet out, cover the dressing to keep it dry.
At our clinic, we send patients home with empty drip bags. The tough plastic makes for a great waterproof cover to pop on when the pet needs a toilet break in the rain.
2. Let the Bandage Breathe
This is the dressing where the client goes too far the other way and keeps a waterproof cover on the paw all the time. With the natural moisture trapped inside, that paw gets cheesy real quick — like wearing the same pair of socks for days! Not good.
Take any waterproof cover off when it’s not needed. This exposes the bandage materials to the air and keeps things hygienic.
3. Alert for Alarm Signals
A too-tight bandage is like a tourniquet and can do lots of damage.
If you see the following signs, contact the vet immediately. If in doubt or you can’t get ahold of the vet, it may be safest (depending on the purpose of the bandage) to remove the bandage altogether.
- Frantic gnawing at the dressing: Be especially vigilant for this if the dog was previously comfortable but has suddenly developed an obsessive gnawing. This is focused, frantic chewing where the dog seems compelled to gnaw and won’t leave the dressing alone.
- Swollen toes: Sometimes the vet deliberately leaves a couple of toes out of the dressing. If these seem swollen, it’s a sign the dressing is too tight. Compare both feet if you’re in doubt.
- A bad smell or seepage: If the bandage covers a traumatic wound, some seepage may be expected. The vet should warn you if this is the case. But if the bandage covers a surgical site, generally, the dressing should stay clean and dry. Beware of bad smells; if they occur, contact the vet.
4. Comfort Check
A couple times a day, look the bandage over. Check at the top and bottom, where the bandage meets fur, for any signs of it rubbing the skin, chaffing or soreness.
- Feel the bandage: Is it at all damp?
- Smell the dressing: Is it dairy-fresh or “yuck”?
Also, make sure the bandage is still up to the job. If it’s loosened, slipped or become an odd shape, then it may not be doing the job properly. Have the vet check it.
5. Cut Out Chewing
Your pet doesn’t understand the bandage is there to help and will almost certainly prefer to remove the dressing. But chewing the dressing is a big no-no.
Chewing and licking destroy the support given by the bandage and make it damp. Also, a saliva-moistening dressing is a breeding ground for bacteria and makes complications more likely.
For an uneventful recovery, put an end to chewing. This means an Elizabethan collar (a.k.a. “the cone of shame”) is needed.
While no dog or cat wants to wear a cone, it’s better for short-term discomfort than damaging the wound and having a repeat procedure and added expense.
Alternatives to cones are available. There are variety of inflatable neck braces that can work well. Plus, there’s a whole host of post-surgical garments available that cover the dressing and make it less tempting to lick.
6. Rest and Relaxation
A bandage is a visible reminder that the pet needs to take things easy.
If the pet runs around, not only will the bandage loosen, but also it puts more stress on the stitches. Again, the short-term inconvenience of rest pays off in the end, with a quicker, uneventful return to full activity.
If your hyped-up hound really won’t stay still, then speak to your vet. They can prescribe a gentle medication with a sedative action that will take the bounce out of their bungee to get you through this difficult period of enforced rest.
Watch this vet expertly bandage a dog’s foot:
7. Boredom Busters
The active pet is inclined to get bored during a restful recuperation. Anticipate this and provide some mental stimulation. Ideas include:
- Puzzle feeder: Instead of putting their chow in a bowl, use a puzzle feeder. This makes them solve problems to get their dinner and adds interest to the day. In its simplest form, scatter kibble on the ground so they have to sniff it out.
- Obedience training: Now could be the perfect opportunity to practice “sit,” “stay,” “down” and “look” if you have a dog. They will love the one-on-one attention, and it also gives the mind a workout.
- Teach tricks: Now could be the time to teach a trick, such as the dog putting their toys away in the toy chest.
So, for a speedy recovery without expensive complications, take care of your pet’s bandage so the dressing can take care of the wound.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Aug. 3, 2018.