Can I Bathe My Dog After Stitches? The Answer May Surprise You

Introduction

Getting stitches is never a fun experience, especially for our furry canine companions. Dogs end up needing stitches for a variety of reasons, from minor cuts and scrapes to more serious injuries from accidents or dog bites. According to the CDC, over 4.5 million dog bites occur each year in the United States alone. While many are harmless nibbles, roughly 885,000 require medical attention. Stitches play an important role in helping these wounds heal properly. But caring for stitches brings up an important question for many dog owners – can they get wet?

Why Dogs May Need Stitches

There are several common reasons dogs may need stitches, including:

Spay or neuter surgery – When a dog is spayed (ovaries removed) or neutered (testicles removed), the incisions need to be closed with stitches or surgical glue. This helps the incision heal properly and prevents infection (source).

Injuries – Cuts, lacerations, or puncture wounds may require stitches if they are deep or wide. Stitches bring the skin edges together so the wound can heal faster and with less scarring (source).

Growth removals – If a veterinarian surgically removes tumors, cysts, or other abnormal growths, the incision site will need to be stitched closed afterwards.

Dental procedures – Some dental surgeries like canine tooth extraction may involve incisions that require stitching.

Biopsy procedures – Taking a tissue sample for biopsy will leave an incision that needs closure with stitches or surgical glue.

The Stitching Procedure

The stitching procedure for dogs is similar to how doctors stitch up human wounds. The veterinarian will first clean the surgical incision site to prevent infection. They will then use sutures, which are threads or stitches made of materials that the skin will absorb over time, to sew the wound closed. The stitching technique can vary based on factors like the location of the incision, how deep it is, and how much tension is needed to hold the wound together for proper healing.

veterinarian stitching up an incision on a dog

There are a few common suturing techniques vets may use. Simple interrupted sutures are individual stitches tied off and spaced evenly along the incision line. Continuous sutures are a single thread woven along the entire incision length. Mattress sutures go deeper into the tissue layers for extra strength. Staples are also sometimes used to close surgical incisions on dogs.

The vet will clean the closed incision again and apply antibiotic ointment before covering it with a bandage. After surgery, the incision site is extremely vulnerable to irritation, licking, infection, and re-opening, so proper aftercare by dog owners is crucial for the stitches to heal well. According to VCA Hospitals, dissolvable sutures typically remain for 7-10 days before the body absorbs them, but non-dissolving sutures need removal by the vet after that timeframe.

Sources:

– https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/care-of-surgical-incisions-in-dogs

– https://dogpainrelief.com/how-to-care-for-a-dogs-stitches-after-surgery/

Caring for Stitches

Proper care of your dog’s stitches after surgery is crucial for healing. Here are some tips for caring for surgical stitches:

Keep the incision area clean. Use a warm, damp cloth to gently wipe away any drainage or crusting around the stitches. Avoid scrubbing or vigorously cleaning the area, as this can irritate the incision. Only use veterinarian-recommended cleansers near the stitches, such as diluted chlorhexidine. Check with your vet before using any skin cleansers [VCA Animal Hospitals].

Prevent chewing and licking. Dogs have a natural tendency to chew or lick their stitches, which can pull them out or lead to infection. Use an Elizabethan collar and provide plenty of activities to distract your dog from the incision area. Keep an eye on your dog so you can intervene with chewing or licking attempts [Rover].

Monitor swelling. Some swelling and bruising around the incision is normal initially. However, excessive swelling, oozing, or redness may indicate issues with the stitches. Contact your vet if you notice any abnormal issues around the incision area in the first 2 weeks after surgery [Dog Pain Relief Guide].

Can Stitches Get Wet?

Getting stitches wet too soon after surgery can increase the risk of infection and delay healing. When stitches get soaked, contaminants can get trapped in the wound, causing inflammation or infection. Wet stitches are also more prone to loosening or dissolving prematurely before the wound has fully closed. According to veterinarians, it is best to keep stitches completely dry for at least 7-10 days after surgery to allow the incision to start healing and for protective scabs to form.1

person drying a dog's wet fur with a towel

If stitches get wet during this initial healing period, gently pat them dry with a clean towel or gauze pad. Avoid rubbing or vigorously drying the area, as this can irritate the incision. It’s also important not to apply any ointments or solutions to stitches without veterinary approval, as these could introduce moisture or germs. Once the stitches are more established after 7-10 days, light moisture exposure may be acceptable, but it’s still best to minimize wetness until they are fully dissolved or removed.

In rare cases, soaked stitches may need to be replaced if they become loose or infected. Check for redness, swelling, oozing, or foul odor, which can indicate an infection is developing. Contact your veterinarian right away if you notice any of these signs.

Bathing and Grooming

While stitches are present, it’s best to avoid full baths for your dog. Getting the stitches wet can introduce bacteria and lead to infection at the incision site. Most vets recommend waiting 7-10 days after stitches are placed before bathing your dog (source).

dog wearing an e-collar to prevent licking its stitches

If your dog gets dirty or smelly before the stitches are ready for a bath, you can use alternatives like dry shampoo or unscented baby wipes to spot clean. Focus on areas away from the stitches and incision site. You can also use a damp washcloth to gently wipe down areas that aren’t stitched (source). Be extremely careful not to get the stitches wet.

When it’s time for a full bath, avoid getting shampoo directly on the stitches. Carefully work around them and opt for a mild, scent-free shampoo. Rinse thoroughly to prevent irritation. Speak with your vet if you have concerns about properly bathing around stitches.

Swimming and Water Activities

Swimming or any water activities should be avoided until stitches have fully healed, which usually takes 10-14 days. According to Coastal Canine, “The wounds and stitches must be healed before going into the water.”

Getting stitches wet too soon can lead to infection or too much movement and tension on the incision site, causing stitches to tear. It’s important to keep the incision clean and dry during the healing process.

Once your vet gives the okay, you can allow your dog to swim again. But it’s still smart to limit swimming and be cautious around water for another week or two to allow for full healing. Avoid lakes or rivers where bacteria and parasites could enter the closing incision.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, “For most procedures, your dog’s activity should be restricted for one week after surgery. It is essential to avoid running, jumping, and other strenuous activities that increase heart rate and respiratory rate for the full course of recovery.” Follow your vet’s specific instructions on appropriate activities post-surgery.

Stitch Removal

The timeline for getting stitches removed depends on the location of the incision and materials used. According to VCA Animal Hospitals (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/care-of-surgical-incisions-in-dogs), if your dog’s incision has non-dissolving sutures, staples, or stent sutures, they are usually removed 10-14 days after surgery. The actual time frame depends on factors like the surgery type, incision location, and your veterinarian’s recommendation.

For the stitch removal appointment, you can expect the vet or a technician to use sterile technique to snip each suture and gently remove it. Your dog may feel brief discomfort during the process. Make sure to praise and reward your dog for cooperating. After stitch removal, continue to monitor the incision site and watch for any redness, swelling or discharge as it fully closes up.

Signs of Problems

It’s important to monitor your dog’s incision and stitches closely during the healing process. Look for any signs of potential problems or complications, such as:

red swollen incision site on a dog's leg

  • Redness around the incision – Healthy healing tissue should be a pink color. Red, dark pink or purple skin can indicate inflammation, irritation or infection (PetMD)
  • Swelling around the incision site – Some minor swelling and bruising is normal initially after surgery, but significant or increasing swelling could mean fluid buildup, inflammation or infection (Rover)
  • Oozing or discharge – Clear discharge is common early on, but any pus-like, yellow, green or foul-smelling discharge points to infection or poor healing (Rover)
  • Bleeding from the incision – Slight bleeding can happen but should resolve quickly. Excessive or prolonged bleeding warrants veterinary attention.
  • Missing or chewed out stitches – Dogs should wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent licking or chewing at stitches. Missing stitches can lead to delayed healing or reopened wounds.
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating – Straining or discomfort when eliminating could indicate internal complications.

If you notice any of these warning signs, contact your veterinarian. Leaving infections or other healing problems untreated can lead to serious complications and delayed recovery. It’s essential to monitor the incision site vigilantly and follow your vet’s post-op instructions closely (PetMD).

Conclusion

As we’ve discussed, there are a few key points to keep in mind when caring for your dog’s stitches:

  • Avoid getting the stitches wet for at least 2 weeks after surgery, as moisture can loosen or dissolve the stitches before the incision fully heals.
  • Bathing should be avoided during the recovery period, but gentle surface cleaning around the incision is okay.
  • Do not let your dog swim or soak in water until the stitches have been removed by your vet.
  • Check the incision site daily for signs of infection like redness, swelling, discharge, or your dog licking excessively at the area.
  • Use an e-collar if your dog keeps bothering the stitches.
  • Contact your vet if you notice any problems with the stitches or incision.

Following your vet’s post-op instructions carefully is crucial for proper healing. With a little extra patience and care while your dog recovers, those bothersome stitches will be out before you know it!

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