Part Three of the Five First Aid myths: Is hydrogen peroxide useful for cleaning wounds?

Click here to get a quick reference guide for safe over the counter medications for your dog.

I want to start this blog post with a story I once heard. And it goes like this:

An old timer veterinarian was bit very badly by a dog. Multiple puncture wounds on his arm and hand. Several of the puncture wounds were very deep, penetrating far beneath the skin layer. First, he flushed the wounds with water, and then he reached for a bottle of hydrogen peroxide.

(OH! And while I am at it! I want to burst all your bubbles by dispelling yet another myth: that is- “Dogs have clean mouths” --- NOT TRUE! They have a ton of bacteria in their mouths! Especially if they have tartar build up and/or periodontal disease)

Anyways back to the story, so Doc grabs a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and starts flushing his deep dog bite wounds… because, you know, he’s worried about bacteria and infection. Bacteria is down in those puncture wounds and he wants to kill those nasty bugs.

Can anyone guess what happens next?

Screaming and swear words anyone?

But do you all know why?

Because hydrogen peroxide might very well be the root of all evil when it comes to cleaning wounds. We know it burns like a bitch!!! – pretty sure I remember using it on myself as a kid when I scraped a knee. Never again.

So anyways to get to this week’s first aid myth:

I’ve seen some people recommend carrying hydrogen peroxide in their first aid kits for their dogs- not only as a way to vomit- but also to clean wounds. And I get it! We are always trying to find multi-functional use items- because when you are out hiking, camping, trail running, or biking with your dog- space for your gear and the weight of your gear is an issue!

So, hydrogen peroxide is great right?! If my dog eats something he shouldn’t I can have it on hand to make him vomit, and if he runs off and comes back with an open bleeding laceration I can use it to clean the wound! Two birds, one stone.

And I think you know where this is going, but I am here to tell you NOPE! Please do not use that hydrogen peroxide in wounds. Superficial or deep.

Yes, you can use it to make him vomit. But please do not, under any circumstance use it to clean a wound. OR to clean his ears.

And here are the reasons why:

First let’s take a look at what hydrogen peroxide IS.

BY definition, hydrogen peroxide is an oxidizing agent- meaning when it makes contact with certain things it produces oxygen- hence the foaming bubbles it makes when used in wounds.

Furthermore, hydrogen peroxide is a non-selective oxidizing agent- which means its “cytotoxic” to HEALTHY CELLS. Which means it KILLS healthy cells.

Those healthy cells include Fibroblasts- what are fibroblasts? They are the healthy cells your dog’s body recruits when he has a wound- the fibroblasts essentially build on one another to heal tissue – so they are kinda important for wound healing.

So, what is hydrogen peroxide good for? Its good for making your dog puke and delaying wound healing.  

Now, let me tell you what Hydrogen peroxide is NOT:

It is NOT a good antiseptic- and that’s the whole reason we might be tempted to use it right? Our dog has this open wound and we don’t want it to get infected.

Well, while hydrogen peroxide is good at killing our healthy cells- it’s not good at killing those little bugs or bacteria that might reside in a wound and start an infection.

Okay. So hopefully I have you all convinced. But I want to address one more thing to really drive the point home.

Why was that old Doc swearing and screaming? You might be asking why hydrogen peroxide burns so bad?

Have you ever heard of subcutaneous emphysema? By definition that is when air pockets develop under the skin. We see this a lot in dog fight wounds- where a bigger dog picks up a little dog by the scruff and shakes him- this creates air pockets under the skin. And it is SUPER PAINFUL in people and in dogs.

Well… when that veterinarian poured the hydrogen peroxide in his dog bite wounds it began oxidizing and forming air pockets under his skin- not only at the site of the puncture- but it began spreading beneath his skin—and this hurt. Really bad. (Enter swear words here)

And if your dog’s cut or laceration is deep enough, and you use hydrogen peroxide to clean it, these air pockets could form under his skin. And it will be SUPER PAINFUL.

I am going to take this principal a step further. Listen up because this is super important. There are documented cases in both people and in animals where hydrogen peroxide used in cleaning deep wounds formed an air embolism. —Because remember it’s an oxidizing agent.

This air embolism can cause ACUTE DEATH if it travels to the brain. Yeah… chances are low. But why on earth would you risk it if there are better antiseptics out there who:

1) don’t hurt so bad 

2) actually do their job of properly cleaning wounds and providing residual antibacterial properties

3) SPEED up healing time instead of delaying it.

Okay. I think I am beating a dead horse here. I think you all get you shouldn’t use it on or in wounds. - Both superficial and deep.

Remember the same principals apply to cleaning ears- if the ears are inflamed and infected the hydrogen peroxide will not kill the bacteria and will only cause irritation.

So, if you can’t use hydrogen peroxide on wounds what can you use?

Honestly, clean water will work just fine. Dilution is the solution to pollution. Clean water will flush out any unwanted debris and bacteria until you can get to proper veterinary care.

Also, you can always clean the surrounding area with antiseptic wipes. Sometimes getting the surface bacteria off the skin will help prevent any infection.

So, I hope I have you all convinced! I know we all have probably used this medieval technology once or twice on ourselves or our dogs... but the fact of the matter is we know better now, and there are much better products on the market that your veterinarian will have to clean the wound proper. But until you can get him to your vet you may just use clean water.

Oh! And getting back to dogs and their dirty mouths… DO NOT LET HIM LICK THE WOUND!

You may apply a bandage to keep him from licking until you can get to a vet. 

What medications are over the counter and safe for our dogs? Click here for a quick reference guide

Any questions? Concerns? Comments? You know the drill. Never hesitate to contact me!

Until then-

Happy tails and safe trails,

Libbie Fort, DVM

P.S. Never second guess yourself again! Download your guide by clicking here so you can be certain what you are giving is safe and non toxic.

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