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About the Treatment of Cuts, Injuries, Wounds and Abscesses in Dogs, Cats, and Other Pets
General Introduction and Comments

Vocabulary Help: 

Fistulated Tissue:  fistulation normally means a hole or tunnel in the body, but I am using the term to indicate the fibrous, reactive, spongy tissue changes under the skin that sometimes forms in reaction to infected wounds.  This reactive tissue is full of tunnel like channels and holes (like a sponge) that trap pus.  It greatly hinders wound healing and the ability of antibiotics to get to the infection. 
Crepitus refers to gas or bubble sounds under the skin...not a good sign.
Gangrene is the general term I use to describe a wound that has become septic not just with pus but also gas (from gas forming organisms) and necrotic (dead and/or rotten) tissue.
Lethargic: tired, listless, mopey, weak, low energy, sluggish etc

Cuts, Wounds, Punctures, Lacerations, and Abscesses:

Bite wounds, lacerations, and other punctures that then become infected (abscesses) are one of the most common problems we see in veterinary medicine. 

We treat several a day at our clinic. 

They are especially common and potentially deadly in cats. 

Many people don't realize that their pet has an abscess because the swelling is often hidden under the fur, but they're bring their pet into the vet because it lame, not eating, or lethargic.   Or has some of my clients would say, "just ain't right"

Of course, many  wounds are obvious, afterall, there's blood and goo all over the place.

At Our Hospital:  What to expect if your pet has an infected wound:
(Of course, other vets may do things differently)

A good Examination:  In addition to our normal whole body exam, once we know we have or suspect an infected wound, we pay special attention to fever (often very high), enlarged lymph nodes, pupil clarity, foreign bodies left in the wound, the presence of maggots, the texture of the wound for hints of fistulation or reactive tissue.  We check for crepitus  and gangrene and the extent of tissue damage or necrosis.

We are very concerned, of course, with the general condition of the patient. 

Is it a strong healthy pet with a wound that needs attention? 

Or is it a dibilitated, sick, dehydrated patient that needs attention in addition to the wound?

Based on what we find on exam, we decide whether the wound or abscess is minor and likely to heal with just cleaning and antibiotics or is it more serious and would be better treated with surgical draining, flushing, debridement, and repair in addition to antibiotics.

Here's What We're Likely to Do for minor wounds unlikely to need surgery but bad enough that they probably won't heal with simple home treatment:

Inspect and clean:  It's difficult to accurately guage how bad a wound is until the hair is clipped off and all the surface crud removed.

Keeping the wound clean until it heals is paramount: your vet will send you home with a good antiseptic wound cleaner.  If at all possible, a wound should be gently massaged, flushed, and cleaned at least twice daily as long as there is visible discharge.  At our hospital, we like a mixture of Tricide, Nolvasan, dexamethasone, & gentocin. 

Antibiotics given by injection and/or by mouth are needed and appropriate in most cases.  Your vet will choose which antibiotic is best for your pet's wound based on several factors.  A culture and sensitivity test may be recommended to help choose the best antibiotic for the job, especially if the wound is unusual in appearance or odor ... or if previous treatment failed.  Click here to go to our interesting and brief page about the discovery of antibiotics

Laser therapy:  I'm pretty sure this is legitimately helpful.  The light energy shot deep into the tissues from the newly approved class 4 lasers supposedly speeds wound healing, reduces inflammation, and reduces pain.  I'm impressed with the results since getting a laser in our practice about 7 months ago. (I'm updating this page July 2014)

Steroids & Antihistamines:  either or both are appropriate for some wound cases and can help make your pet more comfortable, reduce inflammation, swelling, and itching of the wound site.  But steroid use needs to be carefully considered on a case by case basis; something you need to trust to the experience and skill of your veterinarian. 

Wound Healing Aids, Bandages, E Collars, Repellents: Your vet will recommend whatever may be appropriate to keep your pet from over licking, chewing, or making the wound worse.  And some vets love to dispense herbal or enzyme wound healing gels or compounds.  Such compounds are designed to either soothe the wound, make it heal better (preventing scarring or granulation) and/or to speed the healing process. None of these things are probably needed for most pets with simple or minor wounds but can be quite helpful in many situations.  And many pets are hyper or nuts or otherwise difficult, so more aggressive treatment may be indicated. 

Tranquillizers for a few days to allow wound care are sometimes helpful.

Follow through: Be prepared to return for more aggressive treatment, possible surgery, or other change in treatment plan if the problem is not improving.  No vet likes to hear later that a client is bad mouthing said vet because some minor problem didn't heal on initial treatment.  Of course 100% of medical problems don't resolve perfectly with simple, cheap care.   Keeping things cheap and simple is appropriate for many common health problems, but when it doesn't work, you're supposed to COME BACK.

Here's what to expect if your pet has a wound bad enough to need surgical treatment:

Cats and dogs have very elastic skin with a fair amount of fatty tissue between the skin and the underlying muscle. This tissue is known as the subcutaneous tissue (SubQ).  This important tissue, unfortunately, is fairly reactive (easily inflamed) and a warm, nutrient rich place for bacteria to thrive. 

In cats, the problem of bacterial growth is especially bad because cat skin often heals too quickly over a puncture...trapping the bacteria under the skin so that instead of draining out of the body...it reeks local destruction, tunneling thruough the tissue (fistulous tracts), forming endotoxins formation which are absorbed into the blood stream, and producing impressive amounts of pus.

Once this occurs, it's unlikely that antibiotics alone will cure the problem...you first have to open the area to drainage and clean out all the necrotic (damaged and rotten) tissue.  Except in very tiny wounds, this needs to be done using either local or general anesthesia.

So, Here's our Protocol in such cases:
Whether or not all the steps are perfomed will depend on the severity of the case, the underlying health of the pet, and the budget.

Examination: same as above except we will also be concerned with detecting any problems (dehydration, anemia, respiratory distress etc) that will affect anesthesia safety.

Start antibiotics:  Injectable antibiotics get on board quickly

Lab work:  PreAnesthetic blood work is usually appropriate prior to any anesthetic procedure to make sure we know the status of the kidneys, liver, glucose levels etc

I.V. Fluids:  in addition to safety issues (having an immediate route for emergency medications should anything go wrong during anesthesia), IV fluids make a big difference in helping tissues heal.

Anesthesia:  to allow painless wound prep and surgery. 

Surgery:  What we're trying to accomplish with surgery is simple: we need to remove as much pus and necrotic tissue while at the same time being very careful not to damage important nerves, sphincters, major vessels, and so forth.  Depending on the type and severity of the injury, your vet may implant surgical drains

Post Op Stuff:  every case will require different amounts of post op care, but likely considerations are:

Post op wound care & drain management
hospitalization for awhile
bandage management
pain management
post op medications to maybe include antibiotics, antiseptics, wound treatment gels, antihistamines, fly repellents
restraints such a E collars, crates, and tranquillizers as appropriate

Patient and Wound monitoring:  Be watchful for no appetite, poor energy level, and obvious poor wound healing.  Be prepared to return to the clinic. Sometimes it takes several tries to get successful wound healing.  There are lots of reasons why a wound might be difficult to cure.  Don't be too quick to blame the vet.

Return for suture or staple removal if needed in 10-14 days.

Family Safety Note: It's not likely that the bacteria in most dog and cat wounds/abscesses will be a danger to you, but do wash well after cleaning out and treating infections.  And note that the bacteria in some other species, including rabbits and reptiles...can be dangerous.

On This Page:

General Introduction and Comments about wounds and abscesses.

What to Expect if you were to come to our clinic with a pet suffering from a wound, abscess, or similar injury

Website Directory

Home    The Human-Animal Bond     The History of Veterinary Medicine    About our No Kill Shelter     The FoxNest Veterinary Hospital     

"What To Expect When You Go To The Vet"
if your pet should have a problem with ...

Abscesses, wounds, and injuries

Arthritis, Lameness, Fractures, and Ligament Injuries
To include Femoral Head Removal, Hip Dysplasia, Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries, Panosteitis, Radiographic Demonstrations, Disc Disease, and Bone Surgery

Bladder, Urinary Tract, & Kidney Problems

Blood Diseases, Anemias etc
Strokes, Vascular Diseases, Anemias, DVT, DIC, Blood Parasites, Rat Poison, & Bleeding disorders

Cancer, Masses, Lumps and Bumps

Cardiology  Heart disease in Cats, Cardiac Hypertrophy, Valvular disease, Cardiac Insufficiency, Congestive Heart Failure, Heartworm Disease, and a little history about the milestones in treating heart disease

Cats: general information page and directory of diseases and problems specific to cats including vaccine recommendations, leukemia, feline viral infections, feline upper respiratory disease and cats that just aren't feeling well.

Dentistry and problems of the mouth and throat

Dermatology: Skin problems including allergies, rashes, bacterial infections, and itching. Hair Loss, Yeast Infections, Hormonal Problems


Ear Infections and Other Ear Problems

Eye Problems  and Ophthalmic Diseases

Exotics:  Pocket Pets, Rabbits, Hamsters etc

Fleas, Ticks, and other parasite problems

Heart disease; Cardiac diseases, vascular diseases, stroke, & heartworms

Hormone Diseases: Diabetes, Thyroid Disease, Cushing's Disease or Hypercortisolism, Addison's disease or Hypocortisolism, Pancreatitis, obesity as a disease

Infectious Diseases  Colds, Distemper, Parvo, Leptospirosis, Bruceellosis, Panleukopenia, Feline AIDS, Leukemia, Hepatitis, Kennel Cough, Ringworm, Rabies, FIP, Canine Herpes, Toxic Shock Syndrome, & More

Intestinal problems: diarrhea, constipation, torsion, indigestion, and gas. Also pancreatitis, vomiting, esophagitis, colitis, parvo and other types of dysentery

Kidney Disease

Liver Diseases     

Metabolic Diseases: Diabetes, Thyroid Disease, Cushing's Disease or Hypercortisolism, Addison's disease or Hypocortisolism, Pancreatitis, obesity as a disease

Neural Problems and Diseases: Epilepsy, Rabies, Distemper, FIP, Paralysis, Tetanus, Seizures, Disc Disease, Toxoplasmosis & others

Obesity; new information and about the weight loss diet that's working on cats and dogs


Parasite Problems Fleas, Ticks, Heartworms, Intestinal Worms, Mosquitos, Lice, Mites, and other welfare recipients

Poisons  Snakes, Insects, household chemicals, plants, and foods that might poison your pet

Respiratory Diseases

Senior Pet Page: Geriatric Medicine

Skeletal-Muscular Problems Arthritis, Fractures, ACL, Ligament Injuries, Disc Disease, Pannus, and many other problems of the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments

Skin Problems: allergies, rashes, bacterial infections, and itching. Hair Loss, Yeast Infections, Hormonal Problems

Surgery: Spays, Castrations, Testicle Recipes, Soft Tissue Surgery, Hard Tissue Surgery (Bones), C- Sections, Declawing, Tumor Removal and Cancer Surgery

Wounds, punctures, injuries, and abscesses

Urinary Tract Diseases and Problems

Other Topics on This Site

The Human-Animal Bond

History of Veterinary Medicine; lots of interesting stuff    

Zoonotics: Diseases, worms, and parasites people get from pets.

Lab Tests and what they tell us

Medications/Pharmacy Page

Nutrition & Diets
Includes information about Prescription diets used to treat disease, and a discussion about the pet food industry

Reproduction, breeding, & rearing information
Includes information about feline and canine heat or estrus, breeding, C-Sections, pyometra or Infected Uterus, dystocia, no milk, mastitis, & brucellosis
Also newborn care, undescended testicles, and alternative to spaying and castration

Vaccine and other preventive health recommendations

WildLife Page:  Taking care of baby bunnies, squirrels, and birds.  A very funny story about beavers, and other misc information

Our Dog Page:  a directory of problems of concern in dogs including parvovirus, distemper, canine herpes, and other diseases

Veterinary Pet Insurance

Related Topics On Other Pages:
(There is a complete directory of links at the bottom of the page)

The very interesting history about the discovery of antibiotics... maybe the most important discovery in the World!
Also an interesting story about Pfizer's role in the production of antibiotics

Bone Fractures

Hot Spots, Pyoderma, and Skin Infections

Eye injuries


Pet Insurance:   Being prepared for when accidents happen

A Tribute to Vannevar Bush

1890-1974, American electrical engineer and physicist, b. Everett, Mass., grad. Tufts College (B.S., 1913). He went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1919; there he was professor (1923-32) and vice president and dean of engineering (1932-38). During this period he devised a network analyzer to simulate the performance of large electrical networks. He is best known for his design of the differential analyzer, an analog computer that could solve differential equations with as many as 18 independent variables. From 1939 until 1955 he was president of the Carnegie Institution. From 1941 to 1945 he was also the director of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development, where he administered the U.S. war effort to utilize and advance military technology.

He directed such programs as the development of the first atomic bomb, the perfection of radar, and the mass production of sulfa drugs and penicillin.

In 1955 he returned to MIT, retiring in 1971. Bush wrote Endless Horizons (1975) and Modern Arms and Free Men (1985).

Visit our pages about the history of veterinary medicine