How to treat cuts and scrapes in dogs and cats

October 10, 2023 - 5 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
Hands applying bandage on a wounded body part of a dog, close-up shot

Our furry friends aren't immune to occasional cuts and scrapes. Whether your dog suffers a minor scratch from rough gravel or your cat returns from a woodland adventure with a raccoon-inflicted puncture wound, knowing how to respond is crucial.

Minor injuries might be manageable with at-home first aid, but more severe wounds could necessitate immediate veterinary care to halt heavy bleeding or combat serious infections like rabies. In any situation, staying calm and taking the right steps to assess and treat your pet's wound is key.

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How to locate pet cuts and scrapes

Spotting a cut or scrape on your pet isn't always straightforward. Their fur can easily hide even serious injuries, making it tricky to see a wound on your dog's paw or your cat's abdomen. That's why it's crucial to be alert to behavioral changes in your dog or cat. Injured dogs and cats often display noticeable differences in their actions. Signs of a significant cut or scrape can include:

  • Overgrooming a specific area

  • Your dog or cat has lost their appetite

  • Limping

  • Unusual vocalizations from your dog or cat

  • Displays of discomfort

To figure out the best course of treatment, you'll first have to find and assess the wound. This might require some essential tools for a thorough evaluation:

  • Sterile or disposable gloves

  • Clippers (for trimming hair around the wound)

  • Flashlight

  • Tweezers

  • Magnifying glass

As you assess the wound, be aware of signs indicating discomfort, such as yelps, hisses, or cries. For cats, puncture wounds are often located on the head, forelimbs, and base of the tail. When examining any wound, consider its depth, color, odor, and sensitivity. 

Should you encounter deep wounds with exposed bone or wounds emitting pus or foul odors, it's crucial to seek veterinary care immediately.

Tips for dealing with squirmy pets

No matter how prepared you are, dealing with an injured pet can be challenging. Pets with moderate-to-severe wounds may resist your first-aid efforts. Even the sweetest and calmest dogs and cats might squirm or become aggressive to avoid the discomfort of an examination. In such scenarios, you might need to employ additional tactics:

  • Use a muzzle for dogs

  • Enlist the help of a friend for restraint

  • Wrap cats in a towel to prevent scratching (think of it as making a feline burrito)

  • Distract both dogs and cats with treats 

Finally, remember that animals can sense panic and anxiety in humans, so it’s crucial to remain calm. Any additional stress may cause your pet to struggle more strenuously, which could make their injury worse or cause them to bite or scratch you.

Other tips for treating your pets at home

The basics for treating a human wound—disinfect, apply pressure, and bandage—are also your go-to steps for pet care. However, treating your furry friend comes with some pet-specific considerations. To start, it's important to flush the wound with saline to remove any debris.

Veterinarians often recommend a specific antiseptic known as a chlorhexidine solution. You can apply this directly to the wound or use it on a gauze pad to clean the affected area. There's also some evidence to suggest that manuka honey may help manage certain infections. (Remember, these treatments are not a substitute for antibiotics or professional veterinary advice.)

For minor wounds, applying pressure for about 3 minutes should help stop the bleeding. In the event of significant bleeding, you may need to use a bandage or cloth as a makeshift tourniquet.

Pet first aid kit essentials

Don’t have some of the items we just mentioned? Time to get them. Being prepared is half the battle when dealing with pet injuries. Your pet first aid kit should include:

  • Chlorhexidine solution

  • Gauze

  • Sterile or disposable gloves

  • Non-stick dressing material

  • Sterile towel

  • Saline solution

  • Kwik Stop Powder for broken dog nails

Vets generally advise against hydrogen peroxide and alcohol for wound cleaning, as they can be painful and may slow the healing process.

At-home treatment vs. vet care

In non-emergency situations like broken nails or minor cuts, proper at-home treatment and monitored healing will usually suffice. However, emergencies involving large cuts, suspected infections, or restricted mobility warrant an immediate visit to the vet.

For severe trauma—such as car accidents, snake bites, or lacerations from glass or other sharp objects—avoid probing the wound. This could worsen pain and make both you and your pet less safe. 

Quick action is crucial in these cases. Contact your vet for immediate guidance on transportation and keep applying pressure to the wound.

How to properly dress your pet's wound

After the bleeding has stopped, it's time to bandage the wound. The first layer, known as the dressing, should ideally be a non-stick material like a Telfa pad. 

For the second layer, use gauze or cotton for added padding and protection. Finally, secure it all with an adhesive cover, making sure not to wrap it too tightly and restrict mobility.

"Proper bandage care is key to your pet's recovery. Bandages feel foreign to our furry friends, and their first instinct may be to chew or bite them off. An Elizabethan collar, often called a ‘cone,' can prevent this, as can various cone alternatives.

How to care for your pet after treatment

For cats, a clean litter box limits bacteria from entering the wound. Keep the bandage dry; dogs with paw injuries should wear a bootie or plastic bag outdoors. Change the bandage at least once a day initially. Always keep an eye on your pet and offer a comfortable, confined space. Overly active kittens and dogs risk worsening the wound and delaying healing.

"The duration of healing varies by wound severity, location, and your pet’s species. Cats often heal slower than dogs due to a weaker inflammatory response. One study found that a dog's wound begins to scab after about 14 days, while a cat's wound might take longer.

Signs your pet needs to see a vet ASAP

At-home first aid is usually good enough to treat minor wounds. But if your pet has suffered a wound that’s clearly severe or is bleeding heavily, you shouldn’t need to think too hard before racing to your local vet or emergency clinic.

You’d also be well advised to seek veterinary treatment if you've witnessed or suspect a puncture wound, even if the wound appears minor. Wounds from other animals can lead to bacterial infections or even viral infections like rabies and feline leukemia. Even if your pet is vaccinated, vaccines don’t offer unlimited protection. Prophylactic treatments for such illnesses are highly effective, but only when they’re administered swiftly.

Sometimes, your pet may need sedation for proper treatment. Your vet will determine if stitches or staples are necessary and may take radiographs for potential bone injuries or mobility issues. Infected or abscessed areas will likely need drainage. You'll receive discharge instructions and medication prescriptions to continue treatment at home.

Veterinary treatment for severe cuts and scrapes can be costly. A good pet insurance policy can help reimburse you for these unexpected accidents*, so you can think about your pet’s health instead of focusing on your bank account. Learn more about ManyPets pet insurance.

*pre-existing conditions excluded. See your policy for details.

Leanne Swajger
Leanne has a background in animal husbandry and veterinary medicine. Her passion for animals and their owners has led her to pursue a career in pet insurance. In her spare time, she enjoys walking her dog and being outdoors.

Claims coordinator with background in vet medicine