Most pets, at some point in their lives, will sustain a cut, bite, gash or other wounds that will have their owners wondering, “Does my pet need stitches?” Dealing with an injured pet can be a nerve-wracking task in itself, and a bit of knowledge can go a long way toward ensuring a pet gets the proper care.
When Do a Pet’s Wound Need Stitches?
As a general rule, stitches – technically referred to as sutures – are required when a wound is more than half-an-inch in diameter or when the wound is located in an area where the skin is mobile and taut (like near a joint), resulting in a separation of the wound’s edges.
Stitches, which are usually left in place for ten to 14 days, serve to hold the edges of a wound together, which promotes healing and prevents further tearing of the skin.
In many cases, several layers of stitches are inserted at various tissue depths to provide increased stability and to more broadly distribute tension at each suture site. This can be particularly useful in the areas where there’s a great deal of mobility, like near the joints. Stitches placed below the skin’s surface are of the dissolvable variety and do not require removal.
In addition to larger wounds, stitches are also required in cases where an injury has created a flap of skin and in cases where a region of tissue is hanging or in an abnormal position.
Cases for NOT Using Stitches
There are a few cases when a veterinarian may decide against inserting stitches, particularly in cases where there is a high probability of trapping bacteria under the skin, leading to infections and slower healing.
If a wound is not properly irrigated, disinfected and sutured within twelve hours, there’s a much higher chance of infection, so a vet may opt to leave the area as-is in order to allow for the necessary drainage. In instances where stitches are absolutely necessary, it’s common practice to insert a drain that will allow the bacteria to escape, in conjunction with prescribing oral antibiotics.
If You Can’t Get to the Vet Right Away
For pet owners who find themselves in a situation where they cannot immediately get to the veterinarian’s office with an injured pet that’s in need of stitches, there are a few ways to lessen the chance of infection.
Pet owners should begin by trimming or shaving the fur surrounding the wound site, creating a minimum of a half-inch diameter of hair-free skin around the cut.
Next, follow the normal veterinarian-recommended method for cleaning a wound. The wound site should be washed with an anti-bacterial soap, irrigated, disinfected and dressed three times daily.
In the case of an injury where a flap of skin has been created, one to two layers of rolled gauze can be used to hold the skin flap in place, creating more anatomically correct positioning. It’s vital to use only one or two layers of breathable gauze, as this will allow for proper airflow. An absence of airflow promotes the growth of anaerobic bacteria.
If the wound is located on the face or another location where rolled gauze cannot be utilized, or if the edges of the wound are separated by more than one-quarter of an inch, steri-strips can be used to pull the wound edges together until a vet can tend to the injury. Wound closure strips, available in the first aid section of most drug stores, include small strips that are tacked down perpendicularly to the wound, pulling the two edges of the cut together. Leave a one-quarter inch space between the wound edges, as water and antiseptic should still be able to freely flow into the wound to allow for effective cleaning.