Why do I have to keep the wound dry after my dog’s surgery?

Why do I have to keep the wound dry after my dog’s surgery?


One of the hardest parts of helping your pet to recovery from surgery, especially orthopaedic procedures is the rest and restriction part of the doctors orders.

Understanding why the different elements of restriction are important, will help you to accomodate those doctors orders as best as you can.

The first and most obvious one, is to keep the wound dry.

One of the most important of the doctors orders is all about the way skin heals, the sutures that dissolve and the ones in the skin that don’t. Getting all of the tissues wet will impact the healing process. 

If the internal sutures (the dissolvable ones) lose their strength too early in the healing process – due to wetting – the muscles and soft tissues may tear the first time your pet decides to jump on the lounge, run after a ball or chase a bird.

Water and prolonged periods of wetting the skin such as a bath or any hydrotherapy, will decrease the strength and integrity of the healing wound. Wet skin can also provide access to bacteria. Infection in a surgical wound can have a disastrous effect, delaying or even preventing proper healing and may even compromise the surgical repair itself, especially if the infection tracks down to the bone.

And now would be a good time to debunk the old wive’s tale that a dog will lick its wound to heal it. This is just not the case. Licking a wound will keep it wet for prolonged periods of time, delay healing, perhaps introduce infection and could seriously harm the integrity of skin sutures. Many a home veterinary job, performed by your pet’s teeth has resulted in costly restitch procedures and delayed wound healing times.

Why do I have to keep the wound dry after my dog’s surgery? -

Prevent your pet from licking their surgical wound at all times. Your vet may supply you with an elizabethan collar (the cone of shame) on discharge, and it is the most effective tool we have for preventing damage to the surgical site caused by your pet’s licking. It needs to be on  all the time – except perhaps when eating…and should be checked regularly so that your pet cannot reach their stitches. Close supervision, wound guard agents that you can spray on, or light dressings can also help but come a somewhat distant second.

How do I keep the wound dry and ice the affected area?

The first rehabilitation technique that may appear to be a little bit at odds with the first of the doctor’s orders is ice.

In the early post operative period, ice is often applied to a healing joint or wound to reduce swelling and to augment pain management. 

It is important to protect the surgical site when you ice.

Using a tea towel or washer to protect the skin when applying a cold pack or ice to a wound will prevent damage to the surgical site. If the skin is wet due to condensation after icing, be sure to pat dry with a towel after the session is over, or use a hair dryer to quickly blow dry the skin.

If your pet has a thick bandage after discharge from hospital please don’t attempt to ice the injury through the bandage. It won’t work, and wetting the bandage will again do more harm than good. If your pet has a bandage, wait until it is removed before you start icing the operated area.

Rehabilitation is a delicate balancing act between the rates of healing tissues, the formation of scar tissue and the early use of the joint to keep muscles and other tissues healthy. 

Ice is a valuable addition to early recovery from surgery, and the benefits of icing can be enormous in the early post operative period. Knowing how to safeguard wound healing, while performing these rehab techniques is crucial to success.

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