Holly is a high energy dog. Her ancestors would have been working Collies, bred to herd sheep over hillsides all day, every day. She’s just a pet dog, but she still has the instincts and drives of her forebears. She just loves running after a ball that’s thrown for her, again and again and again.
Her favourite place to do this is the beach, and she’s taken there for a walk for an hour every day. It’s the perfect way for her to burn up physical and mental energy: she loves doing it, and it’s fun for her family too. It’s so rewarding to see her enjoying life so much.
If Holly chases the ball into the waves, she ends up swallowing too much salty water which makes her sick, so they try to avoid throwing the ball into the sea. She’s much happier just running up and down on the sand, perhaps splashing into the fresh water inlet from time to time.
A few weeks ago, she was rushing around, chasing the ball as usual, when Caitlin suddenly noticed that there was blood dripping from her right foreleg. Holly hadn’t yelped at all, and she wasn’t limping, but it was obvious that she had somehow injured herself. They stopped the walk then and there, taking her home to look after her.
When they looked closely, they could see that there was a laceration on the so-called “stopper pad”, which is the black pad of thickened skin on the underside of a dog’s wrist. It’s about six inches above the ground, unlike the pads on the underside of a dog’s foot. The stopper pad is used to give a dog extra grip when running over uneven surfaces, or when going at speed around corners. It’s rare for this to be injured: there must have been a sharp object sticking up quite high for Holly to catch herself on it.
That night, they cleaned it up as best as they could, then used the home first aid kit to apply a bandage and dressing to keep it clean. As they did this, they could see that it was a deep cut, and they realised that it would need to be stitched back together.
The next morning, they brought Holly in to our clinic, and she was admitted for the day. She needed a short general anaesthetic, and I closed the deep laceration with three double sutures. I then bandaged her foot carefully to protect the wound from being bashed, and to stop her from chewing the stitches out. She also went home with a plastic cone collar, to stop her from being able to get at it.
The stitches were left in place for eleven days: this is usually how long it takes for skin edges to stick securely together. The stopper pad looked perfect at this stage; the collar was removed, and she began to go for short walks again.
Two days later, during a gentle walk, she must have bashed her stopper pad off something, and the wound opened up. It didn’t bleed as much as before, but it looked wide open and uncomfortable. Holly had to be brought back to the vet.
This type of wound re-opening is surprisingly common with injuries to dogs’ pads. The thick skin overlying the pad is similar to the skin on a human heel: it’s very thick, made up dried, toughened layers. While the thin skin on some parts of the body (such as the inner leg or the flank) is completely replaced in 10 – 14 days, the thicker skin on the pad takes up to a month for the full thickness to grow in. This means that the surface layer of a cut pad cannot “stick together” like the surface layer of a thinner piece of skin. The deeper tissues of a cut pad stick together securely soon after suturing, but it can take a month or longer for the surface layer of a pad to be completely replaced. It grows in slowly, created by the deeper layers gradually growing upwards.
In most cases, a wound that’s repaired like Holly’s stays closed permanently, without any complications. But occasionally, a knock or a twist in a particular direction can be enough to apply shearing pressure across the healed wound, causing it to “pop” open.
It’s unfortunate when this happens, but it’s only a temporary setback. There’s usually no point in resuturing an opened wound like this. Instead, it’s allowed to fill in naturally, in the same way as a cut on a human knee will heal over in time. It has to be kept clean, and Holly has to leave it alone (that cone collar is going to be needed for a bit longer). But within a few weeks, it will have fully healed.
In the mean time, Holly’s going to have to take it a bit easier with that ball-chasing on the beach. It’s frustrating for her; she loves rushing up and down, running after the ball. She doesn’t understand that she’d get better more quickly if she quietly walked around, avoiding any tension on the affected area.
Holly’s a good example of the challenge for vets and owners: just as animals can’t tell us what they’re feeling, neither can they understand us when we tell them how we want them to behave. We can only do our best to keep them quiet, and thank goodness, that’s nearly always enough. Temporary set backs, as for Holly, do happen from time to time. But in the longer run, wounds like this do heal well, and the normal full-speed beach runs will start again.