Does My Dog Need Stitches?

Dogs are playful creatures and, at times, their high energy can lead to accidents such as cuts or lacerations. Many pet owners wonder, “Does my dog need stitches?” The answer to this question can be nuanced, depending on various factors like the location, size, and depth of the wound, as well as the time elapsed since the injury.

Understanding Dog Wounds: An Overview

A dog can sustain different types of wounds, including punctures, abrasions, lacerations, and avulsions. Each wound type varies in severity and treatment requirements. Lacerations and avulsions often have irregular and jagged edges, which can make them challenging to heal without intervention.

When Does a Dog Wound Require Stitches?

Dog wounds necessitating stitches typically have specific characteristics:

Size and Depth

Lacerations larger than half an inch or those that penetrate deeper than the skin’s surface layer may need suturing. Keep in mind that even smaller wounds in certain locations, like near joints or on the face, may require stitches due to the risk of opening with movement or the potential for noticeable scarring.


Bleeding can be a significant indicator. If a wound continues to bleed 10 minutes after applying pressure or if the blood spurts out, you should seek veterinary help immediately, as these signs indicate a possible arterial cut.


As mentioned earlier, wounds near a joint or on an area with a lot of movement might need stitches even if they are relatively small, as the constant motion can prevent healing and even worsen the wound.

Factors to Consider for Dog Stitches

If your dog sustains a wound, here are some essential factors to consider:

Time Since Injury

Timeliness plays a crucial role in wound treatment. Ideally, wounds requiring closure should be stitched, stapled, or treated with skin adhesives within 6 to 8 hours after the injury. Waiting longer than this can increase the risk of infection and complicate the healing process.

Age and Health of the Dog

Older dogs or those with underlying health conditions may heal slower, making stitches necessary for smaller wounds that might not require them in healthier or younger dogs.

What Happens If You Don’t Stitch a Dog’s Wound?

If a wound requiring stitches is left untreated, it may lead to complications. These include:

  • Infection: Open wounds are vulnerable to bacterial infection, which can escalate to severe health issues if not addressed promptly.
  • Delayed Healing: Without stitches, larger wounds may take a significantly longer time to heal.
  • Worsened Condition: Unstitched wounds can reopen, leading to more substantial, harder-to-treat injuries.

First Aid and Home Treatment for Dog Wounds

While seeking professional help is essential for severe wounds, minor cuts or scrapes can be addressed at home with proper first aid:

  • Cleaning the Wound: Use warm water and mild soap to clean the affected area.
  • Applying Antiseptic: After cleaning, apply a pet-safe antiseptic to ward off potential infections.
  • Covering the Wound: If possible, cover the wound with a clean bandage or cloth to keep it clean and prevent your dog from licking it.

Always remember that home treatment should never replace professional veterinary care for severe injuries. If you’re uncertain whether your dog needs stitches, it’s best to err on the side of caution and consult with a vet.

Frequently Asked Questions About Dog Wounds and Stitches

What Are the Signs of Infection in a Dog’s Wound?

Infections can complicate the healing process of a wound and could even pose severe health risks to your pet. Indicators of an infected wound include increased redness, swelling, heat around the wound, purulent discharge (pus), foul odor, and increased pain or sensitivity. You may also notice your dog exhibiting behavioral changes like lethargy or loss of appetite.

How Can I Prevent My Dog from Licking Its Wound?

Dogs instinctively lick their wounds, which can introduce bacteria and delay healing. To prevent this, you could use an Elizabethan collar (also known as an “E-collar” or “cone”). Alternatively, consider pet-friendly wound bandages or a protective wound spray with a bitter taste to deter licking.

How Long Does It Take for a Dog’s Stitched Wound to Heal?

Healing time varies based on the severity and location of the wound, as well as your dog’s overall health. Typically, sutures on a dog’s skin are removed 10 to 14 days post-surgery. However, deeper sutures, which are often absorbable, might take several weeks to months to fully dissolve.

Do Stitches Hurt Dogs?

Local or general anesthesia is used during the suturing process, so your dog shouldn’t feel any pain during the procedure. Post-surgery, your vet will provide pain management instructions and medications to keep your dog comfortable during the healing process.

How Should I Care for My Dog’s Stitched Wound at Home?

Home care for a stitched wound involves keeping the area clean and dry, preventing your dog from licking or scratching the wound, and monitoring for signs of infection. It’s crucial to follow your vet’s specific instructions regarding wound care, including when to return for a follow-up visit or suture removal.

Can I Bathe My Dog with Stitches?

Avoid bathing your dog until the stitches have been removed and the wound has fully healed. Water can weaken the stitches and potentially introduce bacteria into the wound, increasing the risk of infection.

When Is It Too Late for a Dog to Get Stitches?

Typically, wounds older than 6 to 8 hours are considered too late to stitch as the risk of infection increases significantly. In such instances, a vet may opt for alternative treatment options like wound cleaning, antibiotics, and bandaging. The wound would then heal by secondary intention, meaning from the bottom up and inside out.

Are There Alternatives to Stitches for Dogs?

Yes, alternatives to stitches include staples, skin glue, and butterfly bandages. These are often used for surface-level cuts or incisions, while absorbable sutures can be used for deeper wounds. The best option depends on the specific nature and location of the wound, as well as the dog’s overall health status.

Can a Vet Stitch a Wound under Local Anesthesia?

Yes, a vet can perform suturing under local anesthesia, particularly for minor wounds located in areas where the anesthesia can be effectively applied. However, for more complex or large wounds, or wounds in areas hard to numb, general anesthesia may be necessary.

How Can I Safely Transport My Dog to the Vet with a Wound?

When transporting a wounded dog, it’s important to stay calm to help reduce the dog’s anxiety. If possible, you should try to bandage the wound to minimize bleeding. Use a blanket or a pet carrier to move your dog if the injury prevents them from walking.

How to Keep a Dog Calm after Getting Stitches?

Keeping your dog calm post-procedure is crucial for healing. Restrict your dog’s physical activities, provide a quiet and comfortable space for rest, and offer toys or treats as distractions. Anxiety medications may be necessary for dogs who are particularly restless or anxious, but always consult your vet before administering any new medication.

Is it Normal for a Dog’s Wound to Swell after Getting Stitches?

A small amount of swelling may be observed in the initial few days following the procedure, but it should gradually subside. Excessive or prolonged swelling, however, could indicate complications like infection or sutures that are too tight and should be addressed by a vet immediately.

Can a Dog’s Wound Heal without Stitches?

Minor, shallow wounds can often heal without stitches through a process called “healing by second intention.” The wound gradually fills in with new tissue from the bottom up. However, deep or large wounds usually need stitches to heal correctly and prevent severe scarring.

Should I Cover My Dog’s Stitched Wound?

Covering the wound can prevent contamination from dirt or debris and deter your dog from licking or chewing the stitches. However, certain wounds may benefit from air exposure. Your vet will provide specific instructions based on the nature of your dog’s wound.

How Will I Know if the Stitches are Causing My Dog Discomfort?

If the stitches are causing discomfort, your dog might frequently lick or chew the area, or show signs of restlessness. There may be swelling, redness, or discharge around the suture site. If you notice these signs, consult your vet promptly.

How to Clean a Dog’s Wound Before It Gets Stitched?

Before heading to the vet, clean your dog’s wound with warm water and mild soap if possible, and avoid using hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can harm tissues. However, it’s essential to get your dog to the vet as soon as possible, as professional cleaning (debridement) is a crucial part of the treatment process.

What Can Happen If My Dog’s Wound Doesn’t Get Stitches When Needed?

An untreated deep wound can lead to various complications, including infections, prolonged healing, excessive scarring, and, in severe cases, systemic health issues. Therefore, it is important to seek a vet’s opinion whenever your dog has a significant injury.

What Are Signs of Infection in a Stitched Wound?

Signs of infection may include increased redness, warmth, swelling, or pus-like discharge. Other symptoms could be a fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, and changes in behavior. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your vet immediately.

Can A Vet Use Glue Instead of Stitches?

In some cases, a vet might use surgical glue (tissue adhesive) instead of stitches. This often applies to small, superficial wounds. The advantage of glue is that it’s quick to apply, painless, and does not require removal.

How Often Should I Check My Dog’s Stitches?

It’s a good idea to check your dog’s stitches at least once a day to monitor for any signs of infection or complications. However, avoid excessively touching or handling the stitched area to prevent irritation or damage.

Can I Bathe My Dog with Stitches?

Avoid bathing your dog until the stitches are removed or until your vet gives the okay, as water can loosen stitches and promote infection. If your dog gets dirty, spot-clean with a damp cloth or use pet-friendly wipes, avoiding the stitched area.

Can My Dog Go for Walks After Getting Stitches?

Your dog’s activity should be restricted following a stitching procedure. While they can go outside for bathroom breaks, avoid long walks, running, or playing until the vet confirms the wound is sufficiently healed.

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