Caring for a pet’s incision following a surgery is an important part of the recovery process. Proper care, combined with monitoring, is vital, as inappropriate care may result in delayed healing or infection.
Firstly, it’s important to understand that pet incisions are rarely, if ever bandaged. Bandages hold in bacteria, and they create a warm, dark environment that’s perfect for bacteria growth. Therefore, never bandage a pet’s incision, unless explicitly directed to do so by your veterinarian. Incisions are generally only bandaged if they’re on the animal’s foot, as this is an area that requires protection to avoid contamination.
Also, incisions that are closed using glue or dissolvable stitches should not be cleaned. This will cause the stitches or glue to dissolve prematurely, causing the incision to open before it’s healed.
Incision care for pets is typically limited to two steps:
- Clean away dried blood or discharge using a warm, damp wash cloth. This is typically only necessary for the first few days, as discharge typically disappears after thereafter.
- Generously dampen a sterile gauze pad with Betadine and disinfect the incision and surrounding area by dabbing the area with the Betadine. Allow it to air dry. Repeat once a day.
These measures can only be performed on a pet with non-dissolving sutures (stitches) or staple incision closures. Some veterinarians may recommend applying a bit of antibiotic ointment to the area (only if the animal has traditional non-dissolving stitches or staples!) for the first 2 days.
Generally speaking, pets are much more resistant to infection. Their bodies are accustomed to fighting minor infections, so in many ways, their immune systems are more robust than a human’s. And while it may seem counter-intuitive to simply leave the incision to heal on its own, without bandaging, ointments and frequent cleaning, this is the most commonly recommended approach.
Bandages make the incision more prone to infection, which serves to slow healing significantly. Disinfectants like Betadine and hydrogen peroxide can also slow healing because while they kill bacteria, they also damage the tissue. This slows healing.
Signs of an infected incision include:
- Redness that worsens with time.
- Swelling and inflammation that worsens with time.
- Blood or pus discharge (the latter is typically white, green or yellow in color.)
- The incision edges pull apart.
- An odor to the incision (similar to rotting meat.)
- Failure to heal or improve with time.
If your pet’s incision shows signs of infection, contact your veterinary clinic immediately. Your vet will prescribe oral antibiotics that will serve to attack the infection from the inside out. In some cases involving incisions on a region that is already infected or incisions or wounds that are extremely prone to infection (such as contaminated wounds and animal bites), the vet will typically send the pet home with a supply of oral antibiotic medication.
See our related article on how to monitor a pet’s incision after surgery.