Wound Care Mismanagement in a Dog: From A Swelling To Necrosis In Days

Mismanaged wounds can get unimaginably bad very fast if infiltrated by bacteria.

The biggest risk is improper bandaging, wet bandaging, not changing bandages frequently enough and not monitoring the would. When we used a bandage on Cookie’s cut, I was changing her bandage three times a day.

Wound Care Mismanagement in a Dog: From A Swelling To Necrosis In Days

Brutus’ story

When Brutus, a 22-month-old Great Dane, arrived as an emergency patient at the clinic, he presented with a wound to his left forelimb, unlike anything the veterinarian had ever seen.

The affected area was 10 inches long by seven inches wide (25 cm x 18 cm), wrapping around the dog’s leg. It was necrotic, foul-smelling, oozing pus, and the swelling had reached his paw.

Fortunately, he was still able to walk.

Several days earlier, the dog’s owner had taken him to a local veterinary clinic for what was then a small swollen area on the leg and elevated temperature.

Dog Wounds: From A Swelling To Necrosis In Days
Preparation for surgery: note the difference between healthy appearing skin,
inflamed pink tissue and the necrotic black eshar.

Radiographs were taken and antibiotics administered.

When the swelling began to travel, and the skin began to blacken, it was recommended to the owner that he should seek another consult at a veterinary referral hospital.

The diagnosis

The veterinarian made an effort to discover the source of the original wound. Was it trauma, or an infectious agent?

The investigation process leads to the following possible causes: A puncture wound from a bite or foreign object or contact exposure from a topical substance. In both cases the owner deemed these to be highly unlikely.

The next step was to look towards less common possibilities including:

  • Snake bites or tick-borne diseases (the family had recently been to the southern United States).
  • Fungal disease
  • A blood clotting issue affecting the blood supply to the region.
  • MRSA (Methicillan-resistant staphylococcus Aureus) or pathogenic bacteria-like necrotizing fasciitis.

Additional radiographs were taken to assess the chest and abdomen. Blood work (including clotting profiles and tick-borne disease titers), cultures and tissue pathology were done.

The doctors also reviewed the case with another senior veterinarian and surgeon who provided a supporting opinion.

Brutus was in a bad shape

Brutus was lethargic, had diminished appetite, losing weight and was jaundiced.

There was a concern he was becoming septic (a life-threatening condition where bacteria and toxins enter into circulation and render the patient cardio-vascularly unstable.

Due to the spread of the wound, the veterinarians realized immediate surgical intervention was required.

The treatment

Treatment was necessary now, the search for the cause would follow.

Two surgical options were possible.

The first would be to debride (mechanically remove tissue) the big, necrotic wound with the risk that the dog could still become septic. The second was amputation of the foreleg,  certainly not optimal in a 165 pound Great Dane.

A decision to debride the wound was made and Brutus was taken into surgery that night.

The necrotic eshar was removed leaving some dead extensor tendons (white), thrombosed dead cephalic veins (black) and necrotic fat. Note the dull appearance of unhealthy tissue.

The surgery

It was necessary to move quickly as the chance of becoming septic was high.

Debriding the wound was done using scalpel and scissors. It was necessary to remove the dead tissue. The goal was to keep the pink and excise beyond healthy to the level of fresh bleeding tissue.

Brutus was left with partially intact tendons, lots of exposed flesh and big puffy toes.

The area was disinfected with sterile saline and non-stinging betadine (surgical iodine – the key to disinfecting a wound such as this is to only use solutions that will not irritate the tissue).

This entire process took more than an hour to complete.

Sugaring the wound

Next step was to help shed dying tissue, to induce granulation and assist wound healing.

What did the doctors use? Sugar.

Sugar osmotically draws to the surface fluid from surrounding and deeper tissue and bacteria, thereby non-invasively killing the unwanted bacteria.

The wound was packed with the sugar and covered with non-stick bandages that would allow for all of the blood, pus and dead tissue to be drawn away from it. Dressings were changed two- to three times daily for a week and after this period, daily bandage changes were all that was needed.

Oral antibiotics were continued and tramadol prescribed for the pain as needed.

Brutus is released to home care

After three days at the hospital, Brutus was able to go home. Although he had never lost the ability to walk throughout the infection, he was certainly visibly more comfortable now.

His owners were shown how to clean and change the bandages and weekly follow-ups, including culture swabs, are done at the clinic. The wound is expected to take several months to heal.

The hope is the body might be able to heal on its own, save the protective bandaging.

In just under a month the wound filled in and is reduced to less than half its original size.

However, it is possible that future skin grafts will be necessary for tissue reconstruction should insufficient wound reduction and excessive tissue granulation occur. This could consist of advancing skin from higher up on the limb and sliding it down into place or taking skin from elsewhere on the dog’s body.

A third option would be an allograft that is chemically prepared tissue from another species, attached to the limb, and used to promote tissue re-growth.

Brutus’ wound is healing so well to date that Dr. Mitelman is hopeful skin grafts will not be required.

The cause of the wound has yet to be determined. The pathology report indicated beta hemolytic growth and extensive necrosis but still no conclusive etiology.

Lessons learned:

  1. If there is swelling, it is best to find out early what is causing it. After a while, anything can look like everything. After four days on the antibiotic and the extensive spread of the necrotic area, the pathology was unable to provide the doctors with a conclusive cause of the wound.
  2. If it is dead, take it out. Dead tissue holds toxins in and poisons the healthy tissue.
  3. Advice for wound management includes keeping it clean, understanding that healthy tissue is pink and may bleed if rubbed.
  4. Also, do not apply tension, use caution when bandaging as it can have a tendency to constrict and choke off the blood supply.
  5. Do not put anything into an open wound that you would not put into your own eye. It is best to check with a vet before applying any over the counter topical medications.

Related articles:
Canine Wound Care 101: Classification, treatment, and physical therapy
Dog Wounds and Manuka Honey: Our Experience Using Raw Manuka Honey for Wound Care
Dog Wound Care: Scissor-Free Bandaging

Further reading:
Care of Open Wounds in Dogs

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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