Help! Dogs With Cuts & Cats With Wounds

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ What to do

When A Dog Or Cat Gets A Cut

  1. Don’t handle the wound if it looks clean, just keep your pet out of the dirt
  2. To remove dirt, rinse cuts in a solution of ½tsp salt to 1 cup water
  3. If there is serious bleeding, apply a tight bandage using clean cloth
  4. As long as you see a vet immediately, a tight dressing should do minimal harm and may be lifesaving

Now dive deeper…

In case you haven’t noticed yet, there are lots of things I want all pet owners to know. This week it’s a long explanation with a simple message: if you get a wound seen the same day it happens we’ll all be better off. Here’s why…

It’s The Golden Period

One of the mild disappointments I get is seeing wounds that have gone beyond when they could have been easy to manage. That timeframe is called the golden period. Usually, it’s no-one’s fault, just a lack of awareness of how quickly things change. Then, before anyone knew there was a choice, that choice has been taken away.

It’s really simple: the golden period is the time before wounds become excessively contaminated by bacteria. It’s when a vet can just give a bit of local, flush the wound, and stitch it back together. Under sedation of course.

The golden period only lasts somewhere between 6 and 12 hours. Wounds sutured during this time are easy and simple to put back together, and the pet feels very little pain or discomfort. Of course, this only applies for clean wounds like those caused by scissors, glass or sheet metal.

Will A Cut Heal By Itself?

The reason we often see wounds on dogs or cats too late is that people are wondering if they will just heal. The answer is: rarely.

Hair and fluids stick together over smaller wounds to lock in infection and prevent healing. Larger wound edges swell and separate once infection sets in. This causes wound drying and prevents a healthy granulation bed forming, which is essential for skin regrowth.

All this is complicated by a dog or cat’s natural tendency to lick at a wound. Despite the myth, licking makes wounds worse, not better.

How We Manage Other Wounds

What happens if we wait too long, or wounds are dirty?

Older Infected Cuts

If wounds become too contaminated with bacteria, dirt or hair, we have two choices:

We can remove the infected layers and then stitch the wound. This process, called debridement, needs to be performed under general anaesthetic. That’s what the diagram at the start is all about. If we don’t take out the infected layers, the wound won’t heal properly and may just open again after the stitches come out.

It’s still easy enough, but more complex and the final wound is bigger.

We can choose to manage an open wound. This is not our first choice, as it requires frequent bandage changes, takes a long time and can get quite expensive. It’s also very, very easy to do more harm than good when trying to keep bandages on a dog or cat for a long period.

Animal Bites

When a dog or cat bites another animal, it’s infected straight away. If we stitch these wounds up again all we do is just cover up the infection. Even simple animal bites often need debridement before closure, and almost all need antibiotics.

Worse things happen when a dog bites an animal much smaller than itself. These dog bite wounds often have a loose pocket under the skin that rapidly fills with toxic fluids. Patients with skin separation usually die if the correct treatment is not given.

Contaminated Wounds

Heavily contaminated wounds are common in car injuries or gunshots. A particularly severe example occurs when dogs are dragged behind a ute or car.

These wounds often require delayed closure with frequent bandage changes until the wound is healthy and clean enough to close.

The Final Message

So, yes, all these words were just a very long way of saying a stitch in time saves nine. I’ll bet you didn’t even need to be told. You were coming in straight away all along, weren’t you!

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

Help! My Cat Was In A Fight

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Emergency Care

When A Cat Has Fight Injuries

  1. Check your cat all over for painful areas, scabs or small wounds
  2. Nasty anaerobic infections often develop quickly in cat fight wounds
  3. See a vet for wounds, swellings, limping, not eating, quietness or lethargy

Now dive deeper…

Here’s something that surprised me. A lot of people look at the photo above and see cats playing. These cats aren’t playing, they’re fighting, and even if they don’t hurt each other, they aren’t having fun.

Cats do develop friendships and often live happily in stable household groups. However, the sad reality is that cats are a territorial species who rarely tolerate the company of outsider cats.

Cat fights that lead to injuries rarely happen between cats that live together. Much more often, the true culprit is another cat you haven’t seen. What catches most cat owners unawares is how bad a cat fight can be.

What Happens In Cat Fights

Here’s what often happens:

  1. A cat scratches or bites another cat and injects bacteria under the skin
  2. The puncture wound is deep and closes over almost immediately
  3. Anaerobic bacteria start to grow in the absence of oxygen
  4. A bacterial cellulitis starts spreading under the skin
  5. Pus forms and collects in a swelling called an abscess

That’s not all. There are two very special infections all cat owners need to know about:

  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus
  • Cat Scratch Fever

What Is FIV?

Did you know cats have their own AIDS virus? Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is an important infection of cats in Australia. Here in Adelaide, we demonstrated an infection rate of 10% in our own patients.

Just like in people, FIV causes opportunistic diseases due to immune suppression. Cats with FIV are more frequently unwell and generally live shorter lives.

Pet cats only get FIV through the bite of another cat. Not every bite causes infection, but if cats keep getting bitten, it’s almost inevitable that they will get FIV. There is a vaccine and that’s why we always ask you if your cat goes outside when choosing which vaccines to give.

Read all about FIV testing and treatment here.

Cat Scratch Fever

Bartonella henselae is a bacterium found on some cats that causes a nasty infection in people. The classic signs are a reaction at the site of injury followed by a swelling and abscessation of the lymph nodes, usually in the armpit.

I have never seen anyone get it so it must be reasonably uncommon in Australia. Visit this page to read about all the things you can catch from cats.

What Cat Fight Wounds Look Like

Straight after a bad cat fight, your cat might look freaked out but not have any obvious injuries. However, if you look closely you might see:

  • Crusty matted hair from cat saliva
  • Small scabs on the skin surface
  • Scratches on visible areas like ears and nose
  • Hair caught in your cat’s nails

These cats need treatment to avoid their injuries becoming badly infected. Never has the saying been truer: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. After a day or two without treatment:

  • Cats become quiet, feverish and stop eating
  • Painful areas develop on the body
  • An abscess forms and now you really need a vet

I know from bitter experience how much it hurts.

How To Treat Cat Fight Wounds

The most important thing to know about cat fight wounds is that here are two ways to treat them.

  1. A quick and easy trip to the vet when you first notice your cat has been injured, for pain relief and antibiotics
  2. A late and complicated trip to the vet once an abscess forms

Click here to read about the treatment of cat fight abscesses.

Of course, not every cat fight wound is detectable so even good cat owners will get caught out at times by an abscess.

What To Do After Cat Fights

Here’s what we strongly advise you do after your cat has been in a fight

  • Update or start FIV vaccination for at-risk cats
  • If not previously vaccinated, get an FIV test in 6 weeks
  • Keep cats in after dark
  • Keep cats inside completely if fights happen during the day

If you’re thinking about this path, read our guide to keeping indoor cats happy.

Related: Getting Two Adult Cats To Live Together

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

Why I Hate Tennis Balls (And Dogs Love Them)

Tennis ball dog

For many dogs, the highlight of their day is a game of fetch with the ball. Who can resist? You’d have to have a heart like a stone to say no. Or, like me, to know too much.

Stay with me while I show you five ways that tennis balls were made in the devil’s workshop. Afterwards, I’ll tell you how your dog can still have that fun without the risk.

Continue reading “Why I Hate Tennis Balls (And Dogs Love Them)”

Common Problems Of Dogs, Cats, Rabbits & Chickens

Follow the links for information on:

Help! My Cat Was Hit By A Car

cat car injury

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Emergency Care

What To Do If A Cat Is Hit By A Car

  1. Do not chase if runs away- follow without adding stress
  2. If severely injured, protect your hands when picking up
  3. Lift injured cats wrapped in a blanket if possible
  4. Take straight to a vet to check for internal injuries

Now dive deeper.

First, how to tell if a cat has been hit by a car…

The Signs Of Road Trauma In Cats

Cats get a variety of symptoms depending on which area has been damaged. They include:

claws after road injury
  • Frayed nails (see picture)
  • Greyish smudges on the hair
  • Poor leg use or limping
  • Breathing heavily from chest trauma
  • Hiding or lethargy from pain

These three stories might help explain better how cats can get injured by cars.


Lily came to us after arriving home one evening unable to walk on her hind leg. Somehow she’d managed to get over a high fence to get home.

Like most cases, the car injury was not seen, and she didn’t seem too bad at first.

We examined her and apart from a very painful hip region she was in reasonably good shape. We placed a drip and took two full-body X-rays.

The half-serious name we give this view is a ‘Cat-o-gram’. It quickly shows in two views a survey of all the important structures likely to be damaged in road trauma. These are: spine, pelvis, hips, thigh bone (femur), lungs, abdominal wall, bladder and diaphragm (see below).

We took extra views of her hip confirming a dislocation. These can usually be easily put back in so we anaesthetised her to do just that.

However, in this case the hip just wouldn’t stay in and kept coming straight out again. She needed surgery.

The next day we operated and found the soft tissues around the hip had been so badly damaged there was no way of reconstructing the joint. The only option was what we call an “excisional arthroplasty” or “femoral head and neck excision”. We removed the top of the femur, and made an artificial soft tissue joint.

It won’t be perfect, but she’ll have normal mobility and will be pain free. Once she heals you’ll have a hard time telling she isn’t like other cats. Here she is after surgery.


Charlie is a sadder story. He came in one morning after being missing for a while. He didn’t seem too bad but his owner thought he wasn’t himself and brought him in for a check.

cat sacral fracture

When we examined him two things struck us straight away. His tail was paralysed, he was leaking urine and his bladder was too large. Fearing the worst, we anaesthetised him to take this X-ray.

There is a fracture (arrowed) diagonally through the sacrum (the part of the spine attached to the pelvis). The amount of separation, and his symptoms told us that the spinal cord nerves had all been severed at this point.

The saddest thing was knowing that although he looked OK, and a despite paralysed tail being no big deal, he would never be able to urinate by himself again.

I’ve tried in the past to keep these cats going, but the nursing care is nearly impossible to do well. I always regretted not making the right decision early enough. I advised immediate euthanasia to spare him any further suffering, and thankfully his owner agreed.

His owner, who loves his cats, has since rescued a cat from a local shelter. I hear he’s an inside cat now.


Tux is a kitten who was found by one of our clients on a local road. We started looking after her and she seemed fine at first. She had a good appetite, put on weight and generally enjoyed her lucky break.

After a few days we noticed her breathing was becoming laboured so we took the X-rays you can see here. When you compare them to Lily’s earlier images you can see that there is no clear division  between the chest (black) and the abdomen (mostly white). In other words, you can’t see the diaphragm and it all looks a mess.

This plus the fact that she was found on a road led us to the diagnosis of a diaphragmatic hernia. This happens when a cat is run right over, and the abdominal pressure ruptures the diaphragm, forcing abdominal organs into the chest space. Cats can usually breathe well enough at first, but fluid and adhesions form making it harder and harder.

This is the main reason why all cats suspected of being in a car accident must have X-rays. They also get ruptured bladders and abdominal hernias at the same time.

Despite Tux’s tiny size and the high risk, Dr Claire successfully operated. Tux’s liver and intestines were put into their rightful place in the abdomen and the tear in the diaphragm was sutured.

Update: Tux came in one year later, this time with a tail degloving injury, which required tail amputation. She’s very lucky; most cats with tail-pull injuries also lose urinary and faecal control like Charlie.

This only repeats what we always say: cats who get hit by cars keep getting hit, unless the owners get them away from cars.

Do Cats Have Nine Lives?

Of course they just have one. We say they have nine lives because:

  • Cats are curious and exploratory, making serious injuries common
  • Cats are very resilient to trauma, and often survive things other species wouldn’t
  • There are lots of cats. In the old days people probably never knew which stray cat was which
  • They keep getting injured- cats don’t usually learn from car accidents

The most common cause of death in cats is still the motor vehicle. But there is some good news. It’s definitely getting better as more and more cats are kept inside. And not all cats die; amazingly, if cats find the strength to get home, vets can usually save them.

These feline patients were al hit by cars. Their stories are typical of the sorts of injuries and recoveries we regularly see.

To completely prevent car injuries requires cats either staying inside or only going outside in enclosed cat runs. Many people let their cats out during the day, and in quiet streets with unadventurous cats this is usually OK. It does seem that most (but not all)  accidents occur at night.

However, being outside without supervision also puts cats at risk of FIV infection (cat AIDS). Please ask us about vaccinating against this extremely common disease.

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.