Dog-Gone Painful. My Pup’s Run-In With a Rowdy Rover


One of the unfortunate risks of owning multiple dogs is the possibility of them getting into scuffles with each other. Recently, my dog was scratched by another dog while they were interacting. While dog scratches are often minor, they still require care and attention to avoid complications like infections. It’s important to know how to properly clean the wound, decide if veterinary care is needed, watch for signs of infection, and take steps to help prevent something similar from happening again.

Assessing the Injury

After a dog-on-dog scratch or bite incident, it’s important to thoroughly check your dog’s body for injuries. Look for any bleeding, punctures, cuts, swelling or bruising on the skin. Carefully part the fur and feel with your fingers to find wounds that may not be visible. Pay close attention to the neck, legs, torso and tail. Check each toe for injury (source). Press firmly along the length of the spine and note any signs of pain or sensitivity (source). Also inspect inside the ears, underarms and groin area. Look for limping, changes in gait, licking or biting at a certain spot which may indicate injury. It’s important to thoroughly assess all areas of the body to determine the type and extent of injuries after a dog fight.

Providing First Aid

If the dog scratch is bleeding, the first step is to stop the bleeding. Apply firm pressure to the wound with a clean bandage, cloth, or towel. Keep pressure on the wound for at least 15 minutes without lifting to allow the blood clot to form and stop bleeding.

Next, you’ll want to clean the wound to help prevent infection. Wash the scratch with warm water and mild soap, using gentle motions. Avoid scrubbing which can damage the wound. Rinse thoroughly with clean water for at least 5 minutes to remove all debris. Pat dry with a clean towel.

person cleaning dog wound with soap and water

After cleaning, apply an antibiotic ointment like bacitracin or Neosporin and cover with a sterile bandage or gauze pad. Wrap with rolled gauze or adhesive tape, being careful not to wrap too tightly. Keeping the wound covered helps keep bacteria out and allows faster healing. Change the bandage daily and check for signs of infection like redness, swelling, oozing pus, or foul odor.

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, “The risk of infection from animal bites is high, especially if there is a puncture wound. Contact your health care provider if the wound becomes red, warm, swollen, or tender; if you develop a fever; or if red streaks extend from the wound” (Source).

Deciding If Vet Care is Needed

When your dog suffers a wound, it’s important to assess whether the injury requires professional veterinary care or if home treatment will suffice. Consider the following factors:

Severity – Deep puncture wounds, large lacerations, wounds with significant bleeding, or injuries affecting eyes, nose, ears, genitals, joint capsules, etc. typically warrant vet care. Mild scratches may heal at home with proper first aid.

Location – Wounds on the head, neck, chest, armpits, groin or paws have higher infection risk and may need antibiotics or sutures. Extremity wounds may heal better at home.

dog with bandaged paw scratch

Age – Very young or senior dogs have weaker immune systems. Their wounds tend to heal slower and are more prone to complications like infections. Vet care provides extra protection.

When in doubt, it’s best to consult your veterinarian, as they can properly assess the wound and determine the optimal treatment plan. Call your vet promptly if you notice any signs of infection like swelling, redness, oozing, foul odor or fever [1].

Preventing Infection

It’s important to keep the wound clean to prevent infection. Gently wash the area with mild soap and water 2-3 times a day. Be sure to rinse thoroughly. You can apply a topical antibiotic ointment as well, like Neosporin. This helps keep bacteria out of the wound.

Watch closely for signs of infection like redness, swelling, discharge, or odor. According to Healthline, symptoms of infection typically show up within 24 hours. If you notice any of these, contact your vet right away. An oral antibiotic may be needed to treat the infection.

Try to keep your dog from licking or scratching at the wound, as this can introduce more germs. You may need an Elizabethan collar to prevent this. Keeping the wound clean and dry is key to avoiding complications.

dog wearing an elizabethan collar to prevent licking wound

Managing Pain

If your dog is in significant pain after a dog scratch or bite, you may need to administer over-the-counter pain medication. Some common OTC medications that are safe for dogs include acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin. It’s crucial to consult your vet first and give the proper dosage based on your dog’s weight. Never exceed the recommended dosage.

According to the ASPCA, for short-term use, acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be given to dogs at a dosage of 10-15mg per pound every 8-12 hours. Ibuprofen is dosed at 2-4mg per pound every 12-24 hours. Naproxen is given at 2-4mg per pound initially, followed by 1-2mg per pound every 24 hours. Low-dose aspirin is safe for dogs at a dose of 10-25mg per pound every 12-24 hours. Always check with your vet before giving any medication. Monitor your dog closely and discontinue use if any side effects occur. Pain medication can provide relief but should be used cautiously under veterinary guidance.

For dosing charts on common OTC pain medications for dogs, see:
Over the Counter Medications Dosage Rates for Dogs & Cats

Allowing Time to Heal

It’s important to allow time for a dog scratch to heal properly. Restrict your dog’s activity during this time to prevent reopening the wound. Your vet may recommend using an Elizabethan collar (cone) to prevent licking and further irritation of the scratch. The location and severity of the scratch will determine how much time is needed for full healing. Superficial scratches with no broken skin may heal within 3-5 days. Deeper scratches that penetrate the skin can take 7-14 days to heal completely. Monitor the scratch over this time period and watch for any signs of infection like redness, swelling, discharge or your dog licking excessively. Be patient during the healing process and do not allow your dog to be too active or lick excessively so the scratch can close up properly.

Watching for Complications

If the scratch or puncture wound from a dog bite is deep, you may need stitches or a drain to prevent infection. According to Healthline, puncture wounds should be evaluated by a doctor as they can trap bacteria and cause infections. The doctor will examine the wound and may insert a drain or use stitches to close the deeper wound.

It’s important to monitor the wound closely over the next several days. Signs of infection include increased swelling, redness, pain, heat, and red streaks. You may also notice pus or foul-smelling drainage. Seek medical care right away if any of these infection symptoms develop. The doctor will examine the wound, clean it, and may prescribe antibiotics. Ignoring an infection can lead to dangerous complications like tissue damage, blood poisoning, and organ failure.

Additionally, Healthline notes that tetanus is a rare but serious risk with dog scratches. Make sure your tetanus vaccine is up to date. Seek care immediately if you experience muscle spasms, stiffness, difficulty swallowing, fever, or seizures, as these could indicate tetanus.

Lessons Learned

This incident provides some valuable lessons that can help prevent similar scratches in the future:

Socialization is key. Well-socialized dogs are less likely to get into scuffles. Expose puppies to other dogs in a safe, controlled way during the critical socialization window. Obedience training and continued social opportunities help reinforce good behavior around other dogs. Refer to this source for tips on socialization.

Practice good leash skills. Dogs on leashes are more prone to conflict since they cannot create enough space. Work on loose leash walking, quick response to commands, and avoiding face-to-face greetings. Keep leashes short when other dogs are present. This article provides advice for leash training.

owner walking dogs on loose leashes during training session

Take preventative measures. While playing at dog parks or other off-leash areas, stay vigilant. Avoid overcrowding, intervene at signs of trouble, and step in before play gets too rough. Muzzle training is another preventative option for dogs prone to scratching.

When to Get Help

While most minor dog scratches heal on their own, there are some signs that indicate medical attention is needed. These include:

Signs of infection – Redness, swelling, oozing pus, increased pain, red streaks, fever. Infections require antibiotic treatment, so see a doctor right away if you notice these symptoms. Left untreated, infections can spread and become serious.

Severe pain – If the pain seems excessive given the wound size, or is steadily getting worse rather than improving, see a doctor to assess if complications are developing.

Not healing – Small scratches typically heal within 1-2 weeks. If it has been over 2 weeks and the wound is not showing signs of improvement, medical evaluation is recommended. Delayed healing may indicate an underlying issue needing treatment.

In addition, seek prompt medical care for any dog scratch on the face, hands, or genitals due to higher infection risk. Deep puncture wounds and scratches from stray or unvaccinated dogs also warrant medical evaluation.

Don’t wait with worrisome symptoms. It’s better to have a doctor assess the situation than risk complications from an infected or problematic wound. Seek timely medical attention if the dog scratch is not healing properly.

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