How to Disinfect a Pet’s Wound and Prevent Infection

Pets are prone to superficial skin injuries and most owners will encounter a situation at some point in time involving a cat, dog or other pet that’s sustained a wound.


Unfortunately, many dog and cat owners do not know how to properly clean and disinfect a wound or the owner will assume that the injury will heal on its own, leading to a complete lack of wound care. And too often, a situation with a wounded dog or cat will end in the veterinarian’s office with a pet who’s experiencing a great deal of pain and discomfort from the cut, gash or sore.


“It’s important that pet owners understand how to perform basic first aid on their animals. It’s part of responsible animal ownership. You wouldn’t ignore a wound on your child, so a dog or cat’s wound should be tended to as well,” explained Dr. Michael Levine, DVM.


If an injury is not treated properly, infection will result. Signs of infection include pain, swelling and redness, In cases where an infection has been left to fester and spread unchecked, the pet may need to go under anesthesia for a complete cleaning of the wound site and removal of tissue that’s been damaged by the infection.


In severe cases, the infection can spread from the skin’s surface, down into the deep tissues of the muscle and even to the bone. If the infection encounters the circulatory system, the infection can turn systemic, resulting in an often-deadly condition known as sepsis.


To avoid infection, all cuts, scrapes, sores and other superficial wounds on the dog or cat’s skin must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected at least twice a day, until healing is complete.


The following steps are key for promoting healing and preventing infection in a pet with a wound:


  1. Begin by trimming and/or shaving the fur from the area surrounding the injury. A hairless one-inch diameter will allow for proper airflow to the wound, thereby promoting healing since certain types of bacteria (anaerobic) only survive in an air-free environment.
  2. Next, place the pet in a bathtub, sink or other location with running water and wash the wound for two full minutes with an antibacterial soap. Dial is one example of a common antibacterial soap that’s good for the job.
  3. Rinse the wound with clean running water for two full minutes to rinse away the soap and to flush away bacteria and any other debris.
  4. Use a clean paper towel to dry the area surrounding the wound.
  5. Next, use betadine iodine to disinfect the dog or cat’s wound. Pour the antiseptic solution directly onto the wound, or use a sterile gauze pad to apply generous amounts of betadine on the wound and on the area immediately surrounding the wound.
  6. Allow the betadine to air-dry. To not touch the wound or the surrounding area from this point forward, as this may contaminate the wound site with bacteria that could potentially lead to infection.
  7. Use a sterile gauze pad to apply a bit of antibiotic ointment to the wound site to help combat infection.
  8. If the wound is in a location where the cat or dog can lick, an Elizibethan collar (a.k.a “lampshade collars” or “e-collars”) will be required to avoid contamination of the wound site while healing occurs. E-collars are available at large pet supply stores like Petco, and at the veterinarian’s office. Many pet owners also have an e-collar on-hand following a previous operation.


With pets, bandaging the wound is not desirable, nor necessary, as the lack of airflow can lead to infection from an overgrowth of bacteria that tends to occur.


In addition, the above-mentioned steps should be performed twice daily following a pet’s injury. If the dog or cat is showing signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, discharge or an odor at the wound site, the process will need to be repeated three times daily.


If an infection has already taken hold, it’s possible that the pet may need oral antibiotics to overcome the problem. If an infection is suspected, the wound should be washed, flushed and disinfected three times a day as instructed above. If the area does not improve within 36 hours, or if at any point, it appears to be getting worse, a visit to the veterinarian will be required.


Dr. Levine concluded with a tip: “A great way to monitor healing involves photographing the wound with a digital camera. You can compare the daily photographs to get an idea of whether the wound is improving or worsening – it’s more reliable than relying on your memory, especially when the change is gradual.”