How to Clean and Care for a Dog's Incision

By Jo Chester

Many dogs will have surgery at one time in their lives, usually when they are spayed or neutered. Dog owners may be asked to perform routine post-operative care of surgical incisions at home. These incisions require careful handling to prevent infection. Most veterinarians will provide care instructions when the dog is discharged. Contact your vet immediately if the wound starts to smell bad or if you see a discharge.

Frequently Inspect the Incision

A surgical incision typically is covered with a bandage to keep it clean. Some surgical sites, such as the head, neck or upper body, are either difficult to bandage or respond poorly if they are bandaged. These sites typically are left uncovered. If a wound is left unbandaged, it should be inspected frequently to ensure that no dirt, hair or other debris has entered the incision. A healthy incision should have clean, pink edges that have been drawn together by the sutures. Although a wound less than 48 hours old may be a darker, reddish-pink, it should never appear bright red or irritated. Bruising surrounding the incision is normal after the first couple of days. A small amount of blood seepage is normal for the first day after surgery, but is a cause for concern after that period.

Cleaning the Incision

Surgical incisions must remain clean and dry to heal properly. If your dog has a bandaged wound, the bandage should keep it from being contaminated. If an uncovered wound becomes dirty, clean it with a saline solution -- although tap water will do in a pinch. Lavage, the process of using a bulb syringe to apply large amounts of water over a wound, is a gentle and low-pressure manner of cleaning an incision. A Waterpik or similar device produces a higher pressure stream of water that may be more effective in delivering water to clean an incision. Your veterinarian can advise you of when lavage is needed or how to perform it. You should not bathe your dog until his incision heals. Do not apply any alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, creams or ointments to the wound unless directed by your vet.

Prevent Licking and Chewing

Sutures or skin can get torn any time your dog licks or chews at his incision. Licking and chewing can soil or damage a bandage. It is possible that such activities will introduce bacteria to the wound. Using an Elizabethan collar, also known as “the cone” or the “e-collar” can prevent your dog from licking his incision. Alternatives to the Elizabethan collar, such as a stiff, plastic neck brace or a soft e-collar substitute, also can be used. Some dogs can be prevented from licking their incisions by applying bitter liquids to bandages or by covering a surgical site with clothing.

Prevent Energetic Exercise

Crate rest is best for the first few days after surgery. If he cannot be confined, do not allow him to jump on or off furniture or to run in the yard. Any strenuous activity can pull stitches and cause him pain. Short walks, on leash and at a slow pace are acceptable activity for most dogs, unless your vet says otherwise.