Kodi is a gentle dog, who enjoys socialising and playing with people and animals. During the recent snow storms, he was more excited than ever to go out into the local park and have fun. He bounded up to a much bigger dog (a giant breed of some kind), ready to play a game.
Unfortunately, the other dog wasn’t in a playful mood, and before Robyn could do anything, the larger animal had flipped Kodi onto his side, snarling and biting at him. Everyone leapt in to stop the commotion, and the two dogs were soon separated. Dog fights are an occupational hazard of owning dogs sometimes, and it wasn’t anyone’s fault.
It was only after the situation had calmed down that Robyn saw the blood trickling down from Kodi’s right shoulder. His long dark fur had hidden that fact that he’d received a nasty bite, causing a laceration around ten centimetres long. When Robyn looked closely, she could see that this was gaping open, exposing his muscles and bones. It was obvious that the wound needed urgent veterinary attention, but this was on the Friday of the snow storms. All of the shops and businesses in town were shut and it was barely possible to drive on the iced-up roads.
Robyn phoned our practice: I was the vet on call that day. We had had to close our clinic for routine business, since most of our staff were unable to travel to work. I live in Bray, so I arranged to open up the clinic and meet Robyn there with her injured dog.
He is such a good natured dog that I was able to work on him easily, without even having to sedate him.
First, I used electric clippers to clip off the fur around the wound. One of the challenges with dog fight wounds is that the fur around the damaged skin contaminates the wound, carrying infection and delaying healing. It usually makes sense to trim back the fur from the wound edges for ten centimetres or so, ensuring that the wound itself is kept as clean as possible.
Next, I flushed the wound using some sterile saline, squirted through a syringe onto the wound surface. Most people don’t have access to sterile saline, but it is essentially similar to boiled water with salt added, at a rate of around one teaspoonful of salt to a pint of water. It might sound as if this might sting, but in fact, this is a similar concentration to the saltiness of blood, and if you think about it, it never stings when blood runs across a wound, does it? Slightly salty water is the best way to clean any wound; it’s far less likely to be irritating than disinfectants or antiseptics. It’s the ideal way to remove dirt, debris and other contamination from a wound.
Once the wound had been cleaned, the next step was to bring the edges of skin together. The laceration had caused a large opening in the skin, like a oval around the size of one of Robyn’s hands. For the wound to heal, the skin edges needed to be drawn together. The traditional way of doing this is to use sutures, or stitches, but to do this, Kodi would need to be anaesthetised. Suturing is a lengthy procedure, with the needle going in and out of the skin, and the skin edges being tugged while this happens. With a small wound, local anaesthetic can sometimes be used, but not for a case like Kodi’s laceration. The problem on that snowy day was that my normal team of veterinary nurses were snowbound, and a general anaesthetic can be tricky for one person to carry out safely. It would certainly be possible to muster a full team of vets and nurses to do this, but it would take time.
Luckily, there was an alternative: surgical staples. These are special metal staples that are applied from a hand held cartridge “gun”. They are different to office staples: they just half-close, pressing skin edges together without actually going through the skin. This means that for relaxed, easy-going dogs like Kodi, they can often be used to close wounds without the animal even noticing. There’s sometimes not even any need for sedation or local anaesthesia. The sensation can be similar to using finger tips to press the skin edges gently together, with the difference being that the staples stay in place, closing the wound as effectively as traditional sutures.
Robyn held Kodi, reassuring him, while I used the staple gun to apply a row of around eight staples to the gaping wound. By the time I’d finished, just a few minutes later, the wound was closed, with the metal staples making it look a bit like a zipper at the front of a pair of trousers. And Kodi hadn’t even paused to look around at me while I did it; it was as if he hadn’t even realised it was happening.
Kodi was also given some medication: pain relief to ensure he was comfortable, and antibiotics to prevent the wound from getting infected.
His injury healed well, and ten days after the incident, the staples were removed. You can see the line of the scar, but that will fade with time. The most obvious issue is the fact that his fur has been shaved off: it will take around six weeks for this to grow back. Once that has happened, the traumatic incident of the dog fight in the snow will be firmly in the past. And hopefully it will never be repeated.