Let’s face it. If you are out exploring with your dog and you are far from veterinary care you need to be competent in bandaging. Paw pad lacerations, cuts, abrasions, torn toe nails, and many different types of injuries will benefit from a bandage if done correctly. The information in this post is meant to empower you to give your dog the best care possible until you can reach a vet. You have the power to minimize your dog’s pain and suffering until care can be reached.
So here we talk all things bandaging. Specifically, bandage uses, the anatomy or layers of a bandage, proper application, and how long you should leave it on.
The ability to bandage well is not something that is innate for most of us. So, give yourself some grace and definitely practice these techniques… preferably before you need to apply this knowledge in an emergency situation. Practicing now when both you and your dog are relaxed will give you the confidence to do this in an emergency setting. And I promise you will be extra confident going into any situation knowing you have this skill down.
Why should you care about bandaging?
Bandages have multiple uses. And the ability to bandage is a critical tool to have in your tool box.
When applied correctly they can be used to control bleeding (after you have applied direct pressure)- which then frees up your hands to evacuate or hike your dog out, they can provide pain relief, reduce inflammation, provide support, stabilize a fracture, keep wounds clean, prevent licking, and prevent infection.
What does a bandage consist of?
A bandage has three parts:
- A contact layer
- An absorbent layer
- A holding layer
Hold tight and I will explain each individual bandage layer in a second.
(Note that every situation is different. In life threatening situations where there is severe hemorrhage, one could skip the contact layer in an effort to control bleeding quickly. Simply apply the absorbent layer while applying direct, firm pressure until the bleeding stops. Then secure the absorbent layer with the holding layer in order to free up your hands to evacuate)
How do you apply a bandage?
First step: For minor bleeds and abrasions, you may clean and flush the wound prior to bandage application.
A quick note about cleaning the bleeding or open wound:
If there is severe bleeding skip this step. Flushing or cleaning will disrupt any clot formation which can take several minutes to form. The clot is your dog’s natural way of minimizing his blood loss. Basically, the platelets in his blood clump together and adhere to the opening in the blood vessel to slow or stop the bleed.
Then apply the contact layer:
The contact layer is a pad that goes directly against the wound and will be made of a material that is nonstick. The wrapper might say “nonstick” or “non-adhering”, or it might be called a “Telfa Pad.” It is important that the contact layer is nonstick. The idea behind this is; when a wound is healing it is recruiting or migrating healthy, new cells to the area where there is a break in the skin (the wound). If the contact layer of the bandage is made of a material that sticks directly to the wound it 1) can cause pain and bleeding at bandage removal and 2) can disrupt healing by removing the healthy, new migrating cells at removal of the bandage.
An optional step is applying triple antibiotic to the nonstick pad.
If the wound is bleeding severely or a lot of blood has been lost it is important to recognize that you have bigger fish to fry and skip the topical antibiotic. Let your vet worry about the antibiotics later.
Apply the absorbent layer:
This layer’s purpose is to do as it says- absorb blood and bodily fluids and essentially draw them away from the wound to promote healing. This layer will consist of your gauze squares, gauze rolls, and all the material that is more absorbent and “airy” in nature.
If the wound is bleeding heavily or you cannot get it to stop oozing blood do not lift the absorbent layer or gauze layer to visualize the wound. No peeking! - Because doing so will only disrupt the clot. Firmly hold the absorbent material with direct, firm pressure for 3-5 minutes and wrap over the top of it to hold it in place. Also, very important note: If the bleeding won't stop and the gauze becomes saturated with blood do not remove it!! Just add additional gauze layers on top of the saturated absorbent layer. We risk disrupting the clot if you remove this layer. Next, if you have roll gauze or a kerlix gauze roll on hand apply a absorbent bandage over the absorbent gauze in a spiral type fashion down and up the leg (if applicable). Using smooth and even tension and overlapping each pass by 1/3-1/2.
In the Wanderdog first aid kit I have provided material called a kerlix gauze roll. It tends to help absorb the excess blood without disrupting the clot. You can use kerlix in one of two ways: Fold it upon itself to make additional absorbent material and pack it in the wound - or use it as an absorbent holding layer bandage to secure the contact layer in place.
Apply the holding layer:
Secure your absorbent layer with a holding layer or “vet wrap” (aka rolled self-adhesive material- it sticks to itself and not to the dog) – this is the outer most portion of the bandage. Start from the bottom below the wound and work towards the top to end above the wound in a spiral or overlapping fashion.
Know that bandaging with vet wrap takes practice and you can get it too tight- and on the contrary if it’s too loose it may slip. A bandage that is too tight and left on too long can cause permanent tissue damage by cutting off the blood supply to the limb. In the most severe cases this can lead to amputation.
You want the bandage snug, with the ability to sneak a finger underneath it. Every scenario is different- for severe hemorrhage your bandage will need to be tighter. For mild cuts and abrasions consider a lighter bandage that is less snug.
Once again, practice your bandaging at home beforehand so you have an idea on how tight it needs to be - and refer to the following tips:
Quick Vet Wrap Tips:
- When you are applying vet wrap and un rolling it around your dog’s leg never stretch the material or tighten it more than 50 percent of its rebound or “max stretch capacity”
- When its packaged it sticks to itself on the roll- so first unravel or unroll it, and then loosely re roll it so that you are less likely to apply it too tightly
- Overlap each pass of the bandaging material by about 1/3-1/2.
- Use smooth, even tension with each pass.
- Leave the toes exposed (if applicable) and check the toes frequently for swelling. Sometimes they might swell or “spread” if a bandage is too tight.
So, start at the bottom, work your way up, and overlap each pass by 1/3-1/2. Ensure the material is smooth and lying flat.
The last step:
Finally, finish off your bandage by taping the holding layer to the fur. Several passes of tape overlapping the bandage and the fur might be needed. You can do this at the top and the bottom of the bandage to keep it from slipping.
When should a bandage be removed?
If it begins to smell, it gets wet, you notice tissue swelling at the top or the bottom of the bandage, blood or bodily fluids are soaking through, your dog chews or tears a certain part of the bandage (we worry about uneven tension he/she may have created) then it is a good idea to remove it and replace it.
Understand that most bandages are not to be left on for an extended period of time. The time acceptable is varied greatly depending on the situation, location of injury, and tension or how tight the bandage is applied. Pressure wraps that are meant to control bleeding should only be used temporarily until veterinary care can be reached.
Ultimately, use good judgement and practice, practice, practice your bandages!
Another benefit of practice? It gives you confidence. And we all know that confidence gives you the ability to react quickly in a crisis situation while keeping the panic to a minimum.
So, don’t underestimate the powers and unlimited uses of an appropriately applied bandage. It is a very important and useful skill that you might find yourself needing one day. Be proactive and prepared by having these materials on you when you are exploring with your pup. And practice periodically so you are comfortable with your bandaging skills.
Questions or in need of clarification? Reach out to me via email and ask away! I love hearing from you all.
Until next week, get out and explore more with your dogs!
Libbie Fort, DVM