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Care of Open Wounds in Cats

What is a wound?

A wound is an injury causing damage to the skin and/or the underlying tissues. It can be an open wound, such as a cut, or a closed wound, such as a contusion or bruise.

What should I do if my cat’s wound is bleeding?

Initially, attempt to stop the bleeding by applying direct pressure to the wound with an absorbent dressing, such as dry gauze, followed by a layer of bandage material or a clean, dry cloth. This will protect the wound during transport to the veterinary clinic and prevent any further contamination of the injury.

If possible, try to raise the affected area above the level of the heart. This will help reduce the flow of blood to the bleeding area. Do not apply ointments, creams, disinfectants, or any other chemicals to the wound (unless directed by your veterinarian), as they can interfere with healing.

Why are some wounds left open to heal?

Sometimes, the location or the amount of skin loss prevents surgical closure or bandaging (wounds on the face or high up on the leg). Puncture wounds or other trauma can force bacteria deep into the tissues. A contaminated wound that is more than a few hours old should never be closed without surgical debridement (removal of all the contaminated or dead tissue), and in some cases, this may result in more permanent damage than treating the wound medically and leaving it open to heal.

Most wounds are contaminated with bacteria and often contain foreign material such as dirt, grit, or hair that may require anesthesia to remove. When possible, your veterinarian will disinfect and stitch up the wound; however, if there is gross contamination or deep infection present, the wound will be left open for topical treatment and to ensure drainage.

If the wound is open for an extended period, it will often be left to heal without surgical closure, though a drain may be placed. Most of these wounds are treated using a combination of repeated flushing, bandaging, and antibiotics.

How should I care for my cat's open wound at home?

Your veterinarian will provide you with specific instructions.

Typically, you will need to clean the wound two or three times daily with a mild antiseptic solution or warm water to remove any crusted discharge and to keep the wound edges clean. DO NOT use soaps, shampoos, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, herbal preparations, tea tree oil, or any other product to clean an open wound, unless specifically instructed to do so by your veterinarian.

The wound may be bandaged to protect it from further contamination or to prevent your cat from licking it. Daily bandage changes, as demonstrated by your veterinarian, may be required if there is a lot of discharge from the wound. If the wound cannot be bandaged, your cat may require a protective collar to prevent further injury to the wound.

"...your cat may require a protective collar to prevent further injury to the wound."

How do I prevent the wound from closing too early?

When cleaning the wound, gently massage the surrounding skin to open the wound and promote drainage. You may see some discharge or bleeding when you do this. Note whether it appears to be infected (a thick or colored discharge) or if it is a clear thin fluid. You should remove or allow either type of discharge to drain away. If the discharge continues to be bloody, green, or yellow for several consecutive days, contact your veterinarian for instructions.

Is any other medication required?

Most likely, your cat will be given a course of antibiotics, especially if the wound is infected or suspected of being contaminated. No topical treatments should be used unless specifically directed by your veterinarian, as some seemingly harmless chemicals can damage tissues and delay healing. Pain medication may be prescribed for your cat’s comfort and to support the healing process.

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