I know it sounds silly but I am so excited for April! While the weather leaves less than to be desired (it’s barely above freezing as I write this from New England), the fact that an entire month is dedicated to pet first aid awareness gets me super excited!
This means that I, as well as others in the pet space, will be investing extra time and energy to help spread safety to more pets in the world. My goal and passion are to make this world safer one pet at a time and since April gives us an entire month to highlight companion animal’s well-being, then that gives me more exposure to make more pet lives better in these short 30 days.
What is Pet First Aid?
Let’s quickly tackle what exactly “Pet First Aid” means. Quite simply it means the very first care given to an animal. First aid ranges from being the necessary attention to being the necessary first emergency attention given before the animal can receive emergency veterinary medical treatment. The steps humans can take in using first aid whether or not the outcome leads to emergency care or not are still life-saving. Noticing a wound that you are able to treat at home and prevent infection is certainly a good first aid to apply to avoid a future issue. Resuscitating your cat after they chewed an electrical cord is certainly emergent first aid and will be followed up by emergency veterinary care. First aid has the widest-ranging applications but knowing what to look for – what to notice about your pet or an animal in your care is absolutely crucial to their safety.
We will discuss this more in the month to come but my goal is for you to walk away from this month, fully confident in your abilities to notice and take action when a pet needs you to.
I’m kicking off the celebration (still sounds silly doesn’t it?) with a PUNCTURE. Puncture wounds are some of THE MOST COMMON first aid ailments you will encounter – they can also be some of the most difficult problems to find.
Estimates suggest that dog bites which result in puncture wounds account for about 10% of the injuries that vets see regularly. They are hard to find mostly because fur can hide them, even in the finest coats. Despite the skin being broken, they don’t tend to bleed much which is another reason they’re tricky to spot.
Even though you’re not dealing with a concern for loss of blood, the big issue you are battling is a high risk of infection. Since a puncture – usually caused by a cat or dog tooth – is literally a foreign object covered in bacteria then injected into the skin. If not found and treated, these wounds result in nasty infections, abscesses and are often the cause of lameness or soreness. A puncture wound acts as an incubator for the bacteria that has literally been injected into the animal’s skin.
What’s important to know about puncture wounds is that as you can see from this diagram below, the penetrating wound is V-shaped. It heals from the bottom up. Because it heals from the bottom up, if the bacteria is trapped – it is likely to cause an abscess. Therefore, when treating puncture wounds, there are several factors to take into account:
- Don’t ever leave a puncture wound covered – that assists in the incubation of the bacterial growth
- Be certain to clean with a non-caustic antiseptic, such as saline, iodine, or betadine. You don’t want to use common antiseptics like alcohol or hydrogen peroxide because they can cause pain and/or damage to the internal tissues
- Always watch for infection. The wound should be checked several times a day, if any swelling, oozing, or heat from the area develops, you’re going to the vet if you haven’t already
Treating Puncture Wounds
To treat a puncture wound you’ll need to restrain and possibly muzzle based on the location of the wound and the animal’s reaction. As I mentioned before; you do not want to use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, but you should use saline, iodine, or betadine. If you do not have these available you can make your own saline with the following recipe. The recipe makes a 9% saline solution –
1 cup of water, ½ teaspoon of salt, boil for 15 minutes let sit at room temperature and then use to rinse the wound
Examples of Puncture Wounds
While I am NOT a veterinarian and this advice is not to be taken as definitive veterinary medical advice, I do have a bit of experience dealing with my fair share of puncture wounds. Nearly 14 years taking care of people’s pets, the majority being dogs interacting with other dogs has left me very apt in preventing, recognizing and treating wounds. While experienced, there are still plenty for which I have brought the pet into the vet. The tricky thing with these kinds of injuries is you might be able to find the entrance wound, but you have no idea how deep or wide it could be underneath. When you are not certain or this is your first wound that you cannot distinguish if it is superficial or not – you are going to the vet.
Preventing Puncture Wounds
Most puncture wounds are from reactionary events and not actual dog fights. Dogs can be possessive over toys or food or have been startled or injured. They also could have been communicating with growls and body language to another dog that they do not want to engage but have been ignored. A persistent puppy or pal that wants to play when another dog does not, will often lead to a warning bite and depending on where the other dog’s ear, lips, or legs are when that bite comes – you could be dealing with a resulting puncture.
Unlike humans, dogs don’t instinctively scream when they get hurt. They fight or flight to remove the object or animal hurting them. If their option to run away is hindered or biting is the quicker option, that is their reflexive action. Instances that cause the dog or even cat to feel threatened are what most often result in puncture wounds.
My dogs were the recipients of MANY puncture wounds and almost every incident was their fault. They were antagonizing another dog who despite communicating properly to piss off – my dogs went too far. It was truly my fault as the owner of the ornery pooch for not recognizing the other dog’s discomfort with my forward hound.
The other way my dogs or dogs in my care have ended up with punctures is from tussles over food or toys. Our friend Lindsay from ThatMutt has some good information on toy or food possession – also known as resource guarding. While we ask our clients as much as they know about their dog’s behavior before having them around other pups, sometimes the client has no idea that their dog has possession issues or they develop over high value items when the pressure of other pups are around.
Puncture wounds can happen just from walking a dog down the street as the picture of Phoebe shows above. They can happen over toys in your own house, or they can even happen when dogs are playing and one gets the other just at the wrong angle.
After any tussle especially one involving a yelp, check your dogs over. They may seem fine and you might not notice anything since puncture wounds are typically not bleeders – but pay close attention to any wet spots. A puncture wounds becomes a breeding ground for germs and infections are no fun!
Learn pet first aid directly from an ER vet who has handled HUNDREDS of puncture wounds. Our class will help you find a wound and know to apply the appropriate first aid care. It will give you the confidence to know what to do and when to go to the vet.
If you can’t remember why your cat would be limping (didn’t see or hear them land wrong etc.) go through their fur with your fingers feeling for any skin abnormalities indicative of a puncture. They may have had a brawl with your neighbor’s cat down the street and ended up with a tooth in their shoulder.
Happy Pet First Aid Awareness Month! I know its not really a holiday that one would celebrate, but I am excited to spread the message of pet health and safety as far as we can get it! Go learn how to save them now so you can be their hero for their future!