What people are carrying in their canine first aid kits is always a super-hot topic in groups on Facebook and discussion forums where people travel, camp, or hike with their dogs. And while most dog owners fully understand that they need to be packing extra water for their dogs to drink and stay hydrated… they do not realize that water is the number one most critical tool for cleaning cuts and lacerations.
And the most common mistake made? Is people underestimate the power of clean drinking water when cleaning both superficial (shallow) and deep wounds. They want to carry all the antiseptic wipes, solutions, and ointments . Or worse- hydrogen peroxide- to clean and treat wounds in the field. But this is actually NOT the best approach or equipment for this particular ailment.
We are here to discuss this mistake and dispel this myth. And we will cover the very best way to clean cuts, wounds, lacerations that are greater than skin deep.
This blog post will hit on three very important topics when we are considering the best way to effectively clean a deep or superficial cut or laceration.
- We explore why flushing any wound with clean drinking water, is actually the most effective approach to take when cleaning cuts and lacerations.
- We want to decrease healing time of the wound – why flushing with clean water is superior to other alternatives.
- We want to clean the wound in the least painful way possible.
So let’s get to it- why using plain drinking water- not sexy, not fancy, is actually your best approach to cleaning a deep or superficial wound, should you encounter this challenge on the trail, while traveling, and while camping.
1. Using drinking water to flush wounds is the most effective approach you can take to cleaning a cut or laceration.
Why? The water you use to clean a wound is going to easily enter and exit the wound. Wipes and ointments have a huge disadvantage here. It seems overly simple but it is super important to note. The reason we want something that is going to enter and exit the wound easily is when it comes out- it brings both debris and bacteria with it.In fact, the chance of infection and how much you flush the wound is inversely related.
Meaning, the more drinking water you can flush with, the lower your chance of infection.
Using a small amount of pressure or force behind the stream of fluid into the wound gives you bonus points- because by using a mild- moderate pressure behind the stream of liquid you have a higher chance of dislodging and removing the bacteria or debris that can sometimes be seeded into the tissue.
Never forget this all-important truth, and if you take only one thing away it should be this:
Dilution is the solution to pollution.
2. Next, with using plain water we decrease healing time.
Which is a pillar and central goal of practicing canine first aid in the first place. It should be known that hydrogen peroxide, iodine, and antiseptics can all be cytotoxic to the healthy cells that are trying to repair a wound.
If you do not have a science background just stay with me and I will explain.
A healthy "wound bed" of healing cells resides in our dogs’ wounds. These little cells are called fibroblasts. They replicate and form that bright pink tissue that we see accumulating in a healing wound. This healing tissue is called granulation tissue.
We want to keep these cells healthy- and they can actually be a bit sensitive to harsh antiseptics and cleaning agents. In fact, antiseptics can be toxic to these living cells. Hence the term – cytotoxic. They can slow the division of these cells and even kill them. This increases the time it takes for the wound to heal.
3. Finally, we want to clean the wound in the least painful way possible.
Antiseptics, and hydrogen peroxide can not only be cytotoxic, but they can also be incredibly irritating to the exposed tissue within the wound and can cause a burning sensation. Especially hydrogen peroxide.
I must mention that hydrogen peroxide is not a very good antiseptic, and it is an oxidizing agent. – Hence all those little bubbles you see when you pour it in a wound.
In deep wounds, especially wounds with dead space, the use of hydrogen peroxide can actually be incredibly painful and in very rare circumstances- dangerous.
With the oxidizing of hydrogen peroxide, air pockets can develop under the skin and result in a painful condition called subcutaneous emphysema. And what’s worse, cases of an air embolism have been documented in both humans and animals with the use of hydrogen peroxide in open wounds. This condition can be deadly.
Warmed, clean, drinking water tends to be the least painful when flushing wounds. That being said, if warm water is unavailable room temperature or cold drinking water is a close second and still acceptable. So, if your Nalgene has been sitting in the sun and your pup comes running up with a laceration- that water will be the perfect temp to clean a wound in the least painful way possible.
Clean drinking water is next to free, usually accessible within a reasonable time frame (especially if you carry a water filter), and is part of a simple and 'easy to remember' framework for cleaning wounds.
And again, the fact that it is effective, aids in the quickest healing, and is the tool of choice in our least painful approach to cleaning wounds- should make it a no brainer and a easy to remember solution if you pup hits a snag and comes back with a cut or laceration.
Never forget that dilution is the solution to pollution- and do not overthink or underestimate this simple, yet effective approach to wound management. Debris and infection can lead to serious complications, infections, pain, and delayed healing time for your pup- and we all want our pups back up and running and feeling themselves again as quick as possible!
What are your experiences with wound and laceration care? Have you ever encountered any road bumps while trying to clean them or while keeping them clean?
Reach out and let me know!
Until then, I hope you get out and explore more with your pup.
Libbie Fort, DVM