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The Healing Stages of a Dog’s Wound

by Justin Girdler |

No matter how careful you are with your dog, it's only natural for them to get injured. When that happens, there's no need to worry, as recovery is always possible. Depending on the injury's severity, your dog may have to undergo treatment or surgery.

But going through treatment is just one part of the recovery process––you also have to do your part in ensuring your pet properly heals from its injuries. So, what should you expect during the post-surgery period?

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. Here's what you need to know about each phase in the healing process.

Stage 1: Inflammation

The first dog wound healing stage––often called the "first responders" stage––starts immediately after your pet hurts itself. All injuries begin with inflammation, whether a laceration, abrasion or puncture wound. Pet owners may notice 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 when 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 varies between dogs because of their wound severity and 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 your dog's wound is infected.
  • Funky odors - Your dog's injury 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 signify something more serious.

Stage 2: Debridement

A few hours after inflammation, the second dog wound healing stage happens. We 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 becomes pus and eventually exits 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, which needs to be removed by a surgeon. Removal of harmful dead tissue is necessary because it hinders 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 occur naturally, while a vet performs others. We've explained the different types below:

  • Autolytic - Autolytic debridement (also known as autolysis) is carried out by your dog's white blood cells to 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 - Unhealthy tissue is removed based on its texture and temperature during surgery. Though effective, it is less precise than autolytic debridement.

Stage 3: Repair

The repair stage of dog wound healing begins 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 it lost during the first two stages of recovery. 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 you treat the wound 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 "rebuilders" carry out the final stage of your dog's wound healing. 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 reorganizing as your dog's body continues to heal. The scar tissue becomes thinner and stronger, but the marks will never disappear entirely in most cases. You can expect the tissue to retain about 80-85% of its strength pre-injury.

Tips to Speed Up Recovery

The process on how to heal a dog wound fast takes effort and patience. Check out our tips below if you want to help your pet get back on their feet.

Follow your veterinarian’s instructions

Your vet will guide you 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 to cleaning the wound twice 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 to show your vet if something looks awry.

Prevent your dog from licking the wound

Your dog's wound heals, turning 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 consider using protective devices to limit your dog’s access to the incision site.

Keep your dog busy after the surgery

Another reason many pups tend to lick their wounds after surgery is boredom. After the procedure, your vet will likely advise you to limit your dog's activities.Extensive walks and other activities that could cause stretching movements to the incision site are prohibited as they could reopen the wound and delay your dog's recovery.

It would help if you had mind-stimulating games to keep your pet occupied during the healing process. Interactive toys such as puzzle games will help your dog deal with the stress caused by the surgery. Additionally, it helps them release their pent-up energy without endangering their incision site.

Prevent dehydration

Hydration is crucial to a dog's healing body, so it’s best to give your dog a fresh water bowl during recovery.

Following the procedure, you should never leave them alone with an entire bowl of water as groggy dogs tend to fall asleep on their water bowl, causing them to drown. Once you take them home, make sure that they have constant access to a supply of clean water.

You can visually inspect their gums to check for any signs of dehydration. Your pet's gums must be pink and slick, not dry-looking. Additionally, you can press on their gums to see if the color changes and returns quickly. If it takes a couple of moments for their gums to return to their original color, they might be dehydrated.

Pave the Way to Proper Wound Healing

It pays to know 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 to recover as quickly as possible and return to their normal activities.

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