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WOUNDS (OPEN)

Open Wounds

If your cats skin is broken, he has an open wound. These can occur with both indoor and outdoor cats, and can occur as a result of trauma, cat fights, accidents and human malice.

You should treat an open wound promptly, whether it is bleeding or not. These wounds are contaminated, and can easily get infected unless properly cleaned, sutured and your cat placed on systemic antibiotics.

If the wound is caused by a bite, your cat must also receive a Rabies booster vaccine if he is currently vaccinated. If his Rabies vaccine is not current, he will need to be quarantined for six months.

If the wound is profusely bleeding, rinse the cut quickly with clean water, then apply direct pressure with a bandage, stack of gauze squares, facecloth or even a stack of socks. Keep applying direct pressure until you can get him to a veterinarian. If blood continues to soak through the bandage, do not remove it, but continue to add more bandage or cloth on top. Try adding a plastic bag under one of the layers.

Do not leave a pressure bandage on for more than 15 to 30 minutes; this could damage the circulation (especially on a limb). Apply only enough pressure to stop the bleeding.

Types of lacerations include:

  • Laceration -- a wound that involves cutting and tearing of the skin. These can be any size, from a half an inch to a foot or longer. Cats often receive lacerations on the paw pads and the trunk. Most are from cats fights or being hit by a vehicle, although other causes include sharp glass, jumping over or crawling under a fence, and barbed wire. These wounds usually bleed profusely and require immediate medical attention.
  • Abrasions -- these wounds do not break the skin, but are very painful for your cat. These often occur when cats are hit by a car and thrown onto the road, or if they are dragged by a vehicle (often known as "road rash"). They can also occur during a fight with another animal when teeth scrape the skin without puncturing it. The wound may or may not bleed, but is extremely painful. You should take your cat to your veterinarian as soon as possible.
  • Punctures -- these wounds penetrate through the skin and often continue into deeper tissues, without making a large hole on the skin. Most are so small that they can easily be overlooked, but they are potentially more dangerous than an open laceration because of their tendency to abscess. An item that punctures the skin, such as a tooth, nail or thorn, will push a small piece of skin as well as bacteria deep into a cats body, and then withdraw from the wound. Because it is so small, the wound will quickly heal over, sealing the foreign matter and the bacteria in the body. This develops into an infection, which causes a painful abscess, or pus pockets. Most cats will develop a fever, and become anorexic and lethargic. The abscess will eventually rupture, leaving a large, bloody, pus-filled, and smelly wound. These can become infested with maggots in warm weather.
  • Bite wounds -- these are the most common wound seen in cats. They can involve puncture, lacerations, abrasions, or any combination of the above. The severity of these wounds can vary greatly from a small claw puncture wound to a life-threatening mauling bite wound. Most severe mauling bite wounds occur from an attack by a dog. Any bite wound can be serious, and you should take your cat to your vet as quickly as possible. If your cat is the victim of a mauling attack, he should be taken immediately to a veterinary emergency hospital. He may develop shock, and often such victims also have head and neck trauma.
  • Shearing wounds -- these wounds are seen almost exclusively in cats hit by cars. They occur when a cat gets pinned under a spinning wheel, or is pushed or dragged under the car. This destroys the skin, soft tissues and eventually grinds down into the bone. Often the legs, leg joints and paws are ground down into the bone, and the bone marrow cavity itself is exposed. Besides being very painful, this kind of wound is potentially deadly, as it exposes the bone marrow to outside contamination. It may take days of cleaning the wound to remove all of the dirt and other material that had been ground into the wound. If your cat has suffered this type of wound, he should be taken immediately to an emergency veterinary hospital.
  • Degloving wounds -- a wound where the skin has been stripped from the body. These wounds almost always involve either the legs or the tail, which are frequently caught under automobile wheels, in doors, fences or leg-hold traps. Degloving wounds are painful and very serious, as the skin barrier is lost, leaving exposed bone and there is major damage to the soft tissue and blood supply to the tip of the tail and the paws.
  • Avulsions -- wounds where a piece of tissue is torn from the body. These often happen from being hit from a vehicle or a fight with a dog. Although painful, they are relatively less serious, but should still be treated by a veterinarian.
  • Gun shot wounds -- gun shot wounds are becoming more frequent, and often show similar signs as a puncture wound. You may actually be unaware that your cat has been shot. Many times, however, the entrance wound may be very small but the exit wound is much bigger. Damage to tissues will depend on the size and velocity of the bullet. Most gun shot wounds in cats involve BB pellets or air shot rifles. BBs can cause a great deal of soft tissue damage, especially if they penetrate the chest or abdomen. An air rifle shot can shatter bones as well as damage the soft tissues. If your cat is shot in the abdomen, he should be operated on as soon as possible to repair any gut holes before peritonitis (massive abdominal infection) develops.

Symptoms:

  • Bleeding wound
  • Stiffness
  • Sore swollen area on the body
  • Swelling and discharge from a small hole
  • Odor
  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy
  • Fever

Diagnosis:

Your veterinarian will examine your cat and ask you for a history of the incident. He will often have to clip hair around the wound to examine it and any bruising around it. He may have a radiograph taken to assess gas patterns under the skin, shearing wounds, and to look for bullets, shrapnel fragments or fractures caused by gun shot wounds. He might do a contrast study, where he injects dye into a hole to see how deep it is. If the wound is old, or is a deep abscess is suspected, he will also probably have blood tests done to check for infection and to see if any vital organs are not functioning properly.

Treatment:

The first thing your vet will do is to thoroughly clean and debride (remove dead or infected tissue) the wound and make sure the wound can drain so no abscess will form. He may place a Penrose drain (a thick latex noodle-like tube that exits through the skin) deep in the wound, which will allow deep wounds to drain of serum and pus. This allows the wound to heal on the inside as well as the outside. Drains can be used for punctures, lacerations, bite wounds and abscesses, and will usually be left in place for three to seven days.

Your cat will also be placed on systemic antibiotics. The wounds should be cleaned at least once or twice daily, and packed with a warm compress at least two or three times a day for the first two or three days. This will encourage drainage of infected material and reduce swelling.

If your cat received severe bite wounds, he may also be given fluids intravenously and potent pain medication.

If your cat suffered a shearing or degloving injury, he will probably require several days of wound debridement and wet-to-dry bandaging. His tail may be amputated in the case of a degloving injury involving the tail. Shearing wounds often take several weeks to months to heal. The wound is cleaned as well as possible each day and wet bandages are applied. The bandages dry overnight, and adhere to the surface. When they are taken off the next day, they work like tape on lint, pulling up dirt and other objects still in the wound. After several days, when the wound appears clean, a special dressing is applied that promotes production of scar tissue (granulation) to cover the exposed bones and wounds. Once the exposed bone and joins are covered with tissue, the risk of infection drops dramatically.

Shearing and degloving wounds can take several weeks to months of bandage changes and wound dressings before skin covers the area again. A skin graft may be needed in the worst instances.

Aggressive treatment in the beginning, with debridement and wound care, is the key to the fastest healing of any open wound.

Prognosis:

Fair to excellent, depending on the type of wound, the severity and the length of time before treatment was begun. Nearly every wound will heal; some will need more time and nursing care than others.