If your dog or cat has a minor wound, do you head straight for the veterinarian?
This question has been on my mind recently, partly after reading a survey about people self-medicating pets and partly because of a comment left on the “Cat Fight Club” article here on Petful from Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, DVM, that discusses abscess care.
A survey conducted by the UK insurance company More Than showed that around a third of people self-medicate their pets (for complaints such as nettle stings, minor cuts or injured paws) rather than visit the vet — and those who give their pet something from the medicine cabinet do 5–6 times a year on average.
In my opinion, you should prioritize safety first — before giving your pet medication, at least call the vet first to ensure it’s safe and check the correct dose. Remember, human medications are made for humans, and even if the internet says X, Y or Z is safe, giving a relative overdose can be dangerous.
Which is where Dr. Deb’s excellent article about cat abscesses comes in. A commenter said hydrogen peroxide should never be used on living tissue…which raises a great point. What should you use at home if your cat comes back with a fresh bite wound or your dog scratches his flank?
3 Ways to Clean Minor Wounds
Cleaning a fresh wound can prevent infection, and yet there is an argument that peroxide, disinfectants and even salt water all have the potential to damage tissue and delay healing. So what is the caring person meant to do when faced with a pet’s minor wound that needs cleaning?
Let’s come up with some practical suggestions.
First, cleaning a fresh cat bite wound reduces bacterial contamination and could make the difference between it healing uneventfully or an abscess. So, no, you don’t have to dash straight to the vet — but, yes, please bathe minor wounds when you see them.
Here are the options for safe cleaning.
1. Saline Solution
Saline — the first line of defense. From the saline you get in first aid packs to contact lens cleaning solution to a home-prepared solution, this is a good fluid to use when cleaning a wound.
The salt has mild antibacterial properties while saline, when made correctly, has the same makeup as body tissue and is gentle on vital healing cells.
The trick with saline solution is to use a large volume and “lavage” the wound — in other words, wash, wash and wash again, preferably by squirting the salt water from a syringe onto the wound. This not only is a mild disinfectant but also literally flushes debris and contamination away.
Making a saline solution couldn’t be easier. Pour out 1 cup of boiling water, and stir 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir to dissolve and leave it to cool. Make a fresh solution each time you need it.
2. Disinfectant Solutions
Having a pet disinfectant in your first aid kit is a great idea. But beware — not all home disinfectants are safe for animal use. For example, disinfectants containing phenols (such as Dettol) are toxic to cats and should not be used.
Check the packaging to make sure it isn’t a phenolic product, but you can also tell when you dilute the disinfectant — phenols go cloudy in water.
Safe disinfectants include chlorhexidine and povidone-iodine. But you must dilute the disinfectant to the strength indicated on the label — concentrated disinfectant not only kills bugs but also damages exposed living tissue, so get the dilution right. Although intact skin is its own natural barrier, in the case of a wound where raw tissue is exposed, using an incorrect strength could slow healing.
Check out these tips for what to pack in a dog’s first aid kit:
3. Hydrogen Peroxide
Now, there’s no denying the use of hydrogen peroxide is controversial.
The reason is the difference between killing bacteria and healthy tissue is all a matter of dilution. The satisfying fizz of neat peroxide as it kills bacteria can also damage living tissue. But, when diluted appropriately (for every 1 part of 3% hydrogen peroxide, dilute it in 3 parts water), it makes a useful disinfectant and is considered safe on minor wounds.
Of course, be mindful about your pet’s needed level of care. A grossly contaminated wound, a large laceration requiring sutures or a large cat abscess each need a veterinarians’s professional ministrations.
But if your pet has a minor wound, clean it up and monitor for signs of infection. Cleaning is the best thing to do, and by balancing the risks, you do more good than harm.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed May 27, 2016.