How to effectively stop your dog from scratching a wound

I understand that for you as a loving pet owner, witnessing your dog constantly scratching at his wound can be distressing. Whether it’s a stubborn hotspot or a post-surgery wound, preventing your furry friend from exacerbating their wounds is essential for their well-being. 

Sadly, dogs are naturally inclined to lick or scratch their wounds. And sometimes they can be incredibly stubborn and (for no better word) creative when it comes to their wounds. So how can you stop your dog from scratching his wound?

First, you need to understand canine physiology and your dog’s behavior ☺️

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While I am a veterinarian, this article is not intended to replace professional veterinary advice. If you have any medical concerns about your pet, consult your vet immediately. Always seek professional assistance if you are unsure of your pet’s health.

brown and white dog with a bandage around his right paw

There are several different ways we can categorize dog wounds. In general terms, wounds can be classified as clean, contaminated, and infected. This classification is based on the number of bacteria present. Each type requires a slightly different approach. 

Clean wounds are surgical incision wounds. They are created with sterile equipment and the whole incision site is thoroughly sterilized before the incision is made. We can safely assume that these wounds don’t contain many bacteria or debris. 

The difference between a contaminated and an infected wound is in the number of bacteria and the immune system response. 

Contaminated wounds have the potential to become infected. They need to be cleaned thoroughly and protected from further contamination. 

Infected wounds show signs of bacterial infection (f.e. redness, swelling, oozing) and need a more complex treatment plan. 

Wounds in dogs can also vary widely in type and severity, each requiring specific care and attention. 

Here are the most common types of wounds in dogs:

These are minor wounds that involve damage to the outer layers of the skin. They may result from abrasions, cuts, or superficial lacerations. You can treat them at home with a basic first aid kit. 

These types of wounds often have a lot of debris inside that needs to be cleaned out. You can use a saline solution or hydrogen peroxide (be careful, that one might sting). But if you don’t have a first aid kit even warm water will do if your pet has only a small wound. Just get the debris out. 

Once the wound is cleaned, use a mild non-stinging antiseptic solution to disinfect it. You can usually buy them in your local pet store.

You can leave minor scrapes, minor cuts, or small scratching wounds uncovered, otherwise cover the wound with a non-stick clean bandage. 

You can use topical treatments to promote the healing. There are several good products with natural ingredients that help speed up the recovery process, some even have antibacterial properties. 

Puncture wounds result from sharp objects penetrating the skin, often causing hidden internal damage. 

Clean the wound and make sure you have removed all the debris and foreign particles. Apply an antiseptic solution and cover the wound with a clean bandage. 

Puncture wounds have a high risk of getting infected. Your pup needs a prescription antimicrobial ointment to help with the infection. 

It’s always a good idea to take your pet to a vet after administering first aid, as these types of wounds can be tricky. In any case, take your pet to a vet if you see any signs of infection. 

Bite wounds are commonly seen in dog fights or fights with wild animals. Your pup might suffer from puncture wounds, lacerations, abrasions or tears, and extensive damage to the tissue. These are deep wounds that are prone to bacterial infection and require complex wound management. After administering first aid, take your pet to a veterinary clinic. The wound needs to be examined by a professional. I have seen several animal bites that had pieces of broken teeth embedded deep in the wounds. 

Depending on the severity of the wound, your dog will probably need antibiotic ointment or even prescription medications to combat the infection. He might also need pain relief medication and complex wound management.

As a result of surgical procedures, these wounds are intentional incisions made by a veterinarian. They are clean and usually heal fast. Follow your vet’s instructions and watch out for any signs of infection. 

Deep wounds penetrate beyond the skin’s surface, potentially affecting muscles, tissues, or even bones. They need to be treated by a vet. 

Perform first aid and control the bleeding by applying direct pressure. Take your pet to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible. Minimizing the time between examination and definitive debridement is crucial to reduce the risk of bacterial contamination.

Your pet will need antibiotic medication, analgesia for pain relief, and proper local wound management. Follow your vet’s instructions. 

If you need more resources on wound first aid, here’s a nice wound management guide from MSD ☺️

white dog in a recovery suite

Wound healing is a complex and dynamic process that involves a series of coordinated events at the cellular and molecular levels. Sadly, this complicated process often leads to itching or a pulling sensation, which might irritate your pup. 

Upon injury, blood vessels constrict to minimize bleeding, followed by vasodilation to allow immune cells to reach the site. During this first inflammatory phase, the immune cells clean the wound site from the debris and bacteria. 

The next phase of wound healing is the proliferative phase, during which the fibroblasts migrate to the wound, producing collagen necessary to rebuild the tissue. New blood vessels form to provide oxygen and nutrients to the healing tissue. Epithelial cells multiply, covering the wound surface. The wound is now covered with a scab.

During the final, remodeling phase, collagen fibers undergo rearrangement for increased strength and flexibility. Sometimes, a scar tissue is formed. 

The changing nature of the tissue may sometimes cause mild irritation and itching. 

  • Nerve ending activation: Mammals possess an intricate network of nerve endings in their skin. The wound itself and the healing process often stimulate these nerve endings, triggering an itch sensation that compels the dog to scratch.
  • Inflammatory mediators: During the inflammatory phase of the wound healing process, the release of mediators such as histamines and prostaglandins can intensify the itchiness. These chemicals aim to mobilize the immune response but inadvertently contribute to the discomfort.
  • Dry or tight skin: During the healing, the skin around the wound can become dry or tight. This change in skin texture can be perceived as uncomfortable, prompting the dog to scratch in an attempt to alleviate the sensation.
  • Hair growth: Vets often have to shave off the hair around the wound with electric clippers or shave the whole surgical area. In some cases, when the hair starts to grow back, it may cause itching and irritation. 
  • Stitches: As the wound heals, stitches may start to pull and itch. The longer they stay in, the more they irritate the tissue. It’s important to get all your dog’s stitches removed per your doctor’s recommendation.

Do you remember the last time you had a wound? Did it itch? Most dogs, just like humans, experience some level of discomfort during the wound-healing process. The itching sensation, coupled with the general irritation around the wound, can drive dogs to scratch as a natural response to alleviate their discomfort.

Infographic: Common itch triggers during wound healing in dogs

Unchecked scratching in dogs can have far-reaching consequences that go beyond momentary discomfort. It disrupts wound healing, leads to increased susceptibility to infections, and may create a vicious itch-scratch-itch circle with severe tissue damage. 

Ultimately, scratching poses a threat to the overall well-being of your pup, so it’s really important to handle the problem before it gets out of hand. 

Persistent scratching interferes with the natural wound-healing process, disrupting the orderly progression of the inflammatory, proliferative, and remodeling phases. This interference can lead to delayed closure and extended recovery times. 

Continuous trauma to the wound site hinders the regeneration of new tissues, impacting the formation of healthy skin. Delayed healing may result in prolonged vulnerability to infections and other complications.

Scratching and licking introduce bacteria and contaminants from the dog’s paws and mouth into the open wound. This increases the risk of infection, potentially leading to more severe health issues.

Infections trigger an inflammatory response, further exacerbating the discomfort and itchiness experienced by the dog. The cycle of scratching and infection creates a challenging loop that hampers the healing process.

Unchecked scratching can lead to the development of hot spots—localized areas of inflamed, irritated skin. These skin irritations can create a vicious cycle of licking and scratching. They can quickly turn into deep open wounds that are not only painful for the dog but also complicate the healing process.

If left untreated, they often escalate into more severe issues, requiring additional veterinary intervention. Here’s a guide on how to treat hot spots in dogs in case your pup has managed to create an open wound.

Excessive scratching may disrupt the natural formation of scar tissue, leading to irregular and weaker scars. This can compromise the structural integrity of the healed area and potentially result in long-term aesthetic and functional issues.

Itchy dogs that are prone to prolonged scratching or excessive licking may develop a chronic behavior, similar to OCD. Even after the initial wound has healed, the dog may continue to scratch or lick due to the development of habitual patterns. Unusual? Yes, but still worth mentioning 🙂

Chronic itching and the associated discomfort often lead to emotional distress. Your pup might exhibit behavioral changes, such as increased anxiety or irritability. The situation can have a profound impact on the overall well-being of your pet.

I don’t know how about you, but I often struggle to resist the urge to scratch my wounds 🤷‍♀️ Similarly, your furry companion has an inherent instinct to lick and scratch their wounds for relief when they itch. Imagine how challenging it is for them to resist this instinct when you instruct them not to do so. 

So how can you stop your dog from scratching a wound?

Effectively preventing a dog from scratching a wound is paramount for ensuring a smooth and undisturbed healing process. Here are a few tips that might help, but if your pup is too stubborn (or too creative) for his own good, don’t hesitate to contact your vet. 

One way to stop your dog from licking/biting his wound or scratching a wound on his head is to use a collar cone, also known as the Elizabethan collar or “the cone of shame” (I hate to call it that). 

Ensure the cone fits comfortably around the dog’s neck without being too tight or too loose. 

It’s always a good idea to use positive reinforcement and lots of treats if your pup has never worn a cone before. 

While your pup might not be totally okay with wearing a weird big thing around his head, there are ways how to make him more comfortable. If nothing works, look for collar alternatives, there are several good ones on the market. You can try an inflatable collar, buster collar, or soft e-collar instead of a plastic cone. 

Here’s a guide on how to help a dog with a collar cone and which alternatives you can try. 

Alternatively, you can try specially designed doggy shirts, onesies, or recovery suits to cover the wound. 

These are usually well tolerated, especially after surgical procedures in the thorax and belly region. 

Again, make sure you buy one that fits the size of your dog. Follow the guidelines for changing and washing the recovery suit. 

Boredom is never good for your pup, but if he’s been injured, he might focus on his wound and cause some serious damage. Mental engagement and physical activity can help redirect your dog’s focus away from the urge to scratch. 

Talk to your vet about suitable activities that are in line with your dog’s specific healing requirements. 

You can use puzzle toys, chew toys, play scent games, or hide-and-seek. Find out what your pup likes and have fun together 🙂 Keep him occupied so he doesn’t focus on his itchy skin. 

Pet-safe deterrent sprays are specifically formulated to discourage licking and biting. These sprays often have a bitter taste that dissuades the dog without causing harm. 

Although some manufacturers will tell you that it’s okay to apply the spray directly on the wound, please don’t do it. 

You can spray it on bandages or around the affected area.

Please always talk to your vet if you want to use a specific deterrent spray. There are a lot of them on the market, however, not all of them are safe for your pup. 

If your dog’s injury is in the neck area or somewhere where he can’t lick but can reach the wound with his hind legs, you can try using dog boots. Your dog’s nails are a breeding ground for various bacteria and the last thing you want is a secondary infection. 

For some pet owners dog boots work very well. Some dogs tolerate them nicely while some tear them to pieces in a matter of minutes. 

You can combine them with a collar cone. 

Infographic: 6 effective tips on how to stop a dog from scratching his wound

Several natural remedies can be used to soothe an itching wound. However, before you buy something online or try a ‘proven granma’s recipe’, talk to your vet. 

There are different types of wounds and sometimes putting a soothing gel on your dog will do more harm than good. 

Your vet will tell you which products are safe for your pup. And by having a look at your dog’s wound, he can also make sure that the healing process is progressing as it should. 

In the worst-case scenario, your vet can prescribe proper medication to manage the itching. 

Extensive itching can be a sign that the wound is not healing properly. Take your pup to a vet if you don’t know how to effectively prevent him from scratching his wound or if you have a suspicion that something is not right. You know, better safe than sorry 🙂

I know that watching your dog scratching constantly at his wound is hard. As a caring pet parent, you just want your furry friend to heal swiftly and without unnecessary pain. However, the ongoing struggle can be incredibly frustrating and emotionally taxing.

So if nothing works, talk to your vet. We are here to help! ☺️

If you are unable to take your pup to a vet, you can book an online call with a licensed vet using Vetster👇

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Happy pet parenting! ☺️

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