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The Healing Stages of a Dog’s Wound

by Geoff Works |

No matter how careful your dog is, it’s only natural for them to get injured. When that happens, there’s no need to worry. After all, recovery is possible. Depending on how serious the injury is, your dog may have to undergo treatment or surgery.

But going through treatment is just one part of their recovery process. You also have to take steps to make sure the healing process is just as smooth as their treatment. So what should you expect during post-surgery?

This blog discusses the different dog wound healing stages. Read on to learn about each stage in detail. 

The Four Stages of Dog Wound Healing

Before your dog’s wound fully heals, it goes through four different stages. Read on to find out more about each phase in the healing process.

Stage 1: Inflammation

The first dog wound healing stage starts immediately. We can call this the “first responders” stage. All injuries begin with inflammation, whether it’s a laceration, abrasion, or puncture wound. Pet owners may notice symptoms like swelling, redness, heat, and pain. 

As the name “first responders” suggests, this stage controls the bleeding and activates the immune system. After all, a dog’s body reacts immediately the moment it senses a sign of danger.

The body receives chemical signals to start inflammation. When this happens, the capillaries constrict, arterioles dilate, and blood clots form. This process allows blood, white blood cells, and fluids to get to the injured area and prevent infection.

Potential Causes for Concern

Inflammation could vary between dogs because of the severity of the wound and their overall health. Others may experience side effects that could indicate an underlying problem. 

Below we’ve provided a list of a few symptoms to keep an eye out for. If you notice any of these signs, consult your veterinarian immediately. 

  • High fever - An increase in temperature is normal. However, an unusually high fever can mean that your dog’s wound is infected. 
  • Funky odors - Your dog’s wound could release an unpleasant odor. A foul smell could be a sign of an infected wound. 
  • Streaking - You may notice red streaks around your dog’s wound. These are potential symptoms of lymphangitis or an infection of the lymph vessels.
  • Excessive bleeding - Sometimes, bleeding happens after surgery but too much blood could be a sign of something more serious.

Stage 2: Debridement

A few hours after inflammation, the second dog wound healing stage happens. We can call this stage the “cleanup crew.” 

After the “first responder” cells work together to consume dead tissues, the “cleanup crew” cleans up the wound by killing off bacteria and clearing up debris. Finally, the debris is converted into pus where it’ll eventually exit your dog’s body.

But sometimes, the debridement stage doesn’t end there. After all, your dog’s wound may also have non-viable and necrotic tissue — and these need to be removed by a surgeon. Harmful dead tissue needs to be removed because they hinder the development of new and healthy tissue.

Two Classifications of Debridement

Debridement is classified in two ways:

  • Selective - This kind of debridement removes the damaged tissue without harming the remaining healthy tissues.
  • Non-selective - Severe debridement cases may require the removal of both healthy and unhealthy tissues.

Four Forms of Debridement

Some types of debridement can take place naturally, while others are performed by a vet. We’ve explained the different types below:

  • Autolytic -  Autolytic debridement (also known as autolysis) is carried out by your dog’s white blood cells which help soften hardened tissues. The process usually takes place within the first three to five days. As a selective form of debridement, it spares the healthy cells and targets only the dead ones.
  • Larval therapy - This process involves placing maggots or their larvae on the wound site to eat away the dead tissue of the wound and leave the healthy tissue behind. 
  • Mechanical - This form of debridement slows down or stops your dog’s regular healing cycle. The process involves the physical removal of tissue using dried on dressing. 
  • Surgical - During surgery, unhealthy tissue is removed based on their texture and temperature. Though effective, it is less precise than autolytic debridement.

Stage 3: Repair

You can expect the repair stage of dog wound healing to happen after a couple of days. This stage is carried out by “the rebuilders.”

If no infection develops and the wound healing is right on track, your dog’s cells will naturally grow and rebuild what was lost during the first two stages of healing. Your dog’s blood vessels will carry blood to the wound site, and the skin cells will form scabs. 

Wound Closure Processes

Two processes describe how your dog’s wound may close.

  • Primary Intention - If the wound has been treated with surgery, the skin will close over the incision and close the injury. 
  • Secondary Intention - Wider wounds and injuries that are too infected to be sealed up undergo a secondary intention closure. Instead of an incision line, it creates layer after layer of new tissue from the bottom up. 

Stage 4: Maturation

The final stage of your dog’s wound healing is carried out by the “rebuilders.”It begins after two to three weeks from the injury and can extend to months or years. Reaching this phase means that your pet has almost recovered.

Collagen used by “the rebuilders” will start to reorganize as your dog’s body continues to heal. The scar tissue becomes thinner and stronger but in most cases the marks will never disappear completely. You can expect the tissue to retain about 80-85% of their strength pre-injury. 

Tips to Speed Up Recovery

The process on how to heal a dog wound fast takes effort and patience. If you want to help your furry friends get back on their feet, check out our tips below.

Follow your veterinarian’s instructions

Your vet will give you guidelines on how to take care of your dog’s incision. Following these will help reduce your pet’s risk of infections and other complications. Most of these guidelines are simple enough to follow, and could range from changing the bandages and cleaning the wound two to three times a day. 

Familiarize yourself with a normal incision

Make sure you know what to expect in the weeks to come following your dog’s surgery or incision. You may notice a few changes during recovery, but some signs shouldn’t be a cause for alarm. For example, you may see your dog’s skin color change from pink to red or notice bruises near the incision site. Moreover, you might notice a small amount of blood seeping out of the wound. 

We’ve created a week-by-week timeline of a dog recovering from an ACL tear, a common canine injury.

Know the red flags

Knowing the problem is already half the solution, so make sure you’re aware of what a problematic wound looks like. Some things to look out for include excessive swelling, unpleasant smells, and the presence of large amounts of blood. At the first sign of any red flags, contact your veterinarian immediately. 

Check the incision site daily

Ensure a smooth recovery by checking your dog’s wound daily. Observe your pet’s skin, scars, and stitches. Consider taking photos so you can easily show your vet if something looks awry.

Prevent your dog from licking the wound

Your dog’s wound heals, it will turn itchy, which could prompt them to lick the injury. Licking should be avoided, however, because this keeps the wound moist and could turn it into a breeding ground for bacteria. To ensure a smooth recovery, you may want to look into using protective devices to limit your dog’s access to the incision site. 

Pave the Way to Proper Wound Healing

It pays to be informed by knowing what to expect during the different dog wound healing stages. That way, you can prevent further complications and ensure that your dog receives the proper care and attention. Help your dog stay on the right track so they can recover as quickly as possible and return to their normal activities.

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