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We all love our furry and feathered friends, and it’s important to know how to take care of them if they’re injured. While information on wound care for pets like dogs and cats is easy to find, other pets need care, too! Visiting a professional is always best, but here are some tips about things you can do at home to help your pets recover safely and quickly before and after you take them to the vet.
We’ll be looking at the following pets and the first aid care each of them need for open wounds:
Birds try very hard to hide their injuries and distress, so it’s important to keep a close eye on their movements and behaviors. Anything out of the ordinary can be a sign of an injury or illness. In addition, the stress of an injury often does more harm to birds than the injuries themselves, so getting care quickly is important. In the case of wounds, there are important items to keep on hand for bird first-aid:
- Cotton swabs
- Gauze pads
- A disinfectant
- Wound heal spray
- Restraining Towel
- Cardboard box with flour in the bottom
- Nail file
(For a more detailed list and explanation of the need for these items, the online Veterinary Manual has an article on Bird First Aid.)
If your bird has an open wound, it’s important to first get them into a safe area. Using a restraining towel is good for this, and will help to keep your bird warm. To clean a wound, using cotton swabs is best for small areas while gauze pads are better for larger ones. Use a disinfectant like hydrogen peroxide to clean away blood and any debris from the wound area (but avoid using it around the nostrils, beak, and eyes!). If feathers are matted or damaged, it’s best to clip them carefully with the scissors to avoid more damage to surrounding feathers.
Sometimes a bird needs to be taken to a vet still after a wound cleaning, and it’s important to do that in a way that won’t stress your bird too much. In the case of something like a bleeding toenail, a good way to transport them is in a cardboard box with flour at the bottom because the flour will absorb any blood and make it more comfortable for them. This way, they can walk around freely without serious restraints that may put too much stress on your bird.
After cleaning the wound areas and/or taking your bird to the vet, apply a healing spray, like Fauna Care’s First Aid Spray to help the wounds heal faster before bandaging and covering them.
Hamsters need less specialized implements for wound care than birds, and the basic implements to have on hand are:
- A tissue or small, soft cloth
- Queue tips
- Wound care spray
- Small bandages
Gently press the small cloth to the wounded area to stop the bleeding. (Adding a small amount of clean flour to the wound area can help the blood to clot and bleeding to stop as well, but make sure to clean the excess off!) Once it has stopped, clean the area with disinfectant using the queue tips for precision before covering it with a bandage. Wound care spray can also be applied to the area before bandaging.
In general, hamsters can clean and care for minor cuts and scrapes on their own, but if you notice bleeding, you should take these steps and contact a vet.
For rabbits, the treatments of minor cuts and other open wounds are similar to those for hamsters, as both are small rodents, but rabbits must be handled with even more care because they are more easily stressed. The first-aid items needed are nearly identical to those needed for hamsters and include:
- Gauze or tissue to stop the bleeding
- Wound care spray
- Small bandages
Use a layer of gauze to cover the wound and apply gentle pressure to stop the bleeding. If the blood soaks through one layer, add another layer of gauze on top without peeling the first layer off. Once the bleeding has stopped, rinse the wound with warm (not hot!) water and apply disinfectant to the area. (In this case, something like Betadine may be preferable to hydrogen peroxide in terms of a disinfectant.) Apply a wound care spray to the area and cover with a small bandage, which can be made from the leftover clean gauze. Once the wound begins to heal and there’s little risk of your rabbit licking or aggravating the area, uncover the wound, as keeping it bandaged for too long may slow the healing process.
Ferret first aid needs are also similar to those of hamsters and rabbits, needing:
- Q tips
- Wound spray
- With the addition of Styptic Powder or Gel (usually used to stop the bleeding caused by clipping a toenail/claw too short)
Because ferret skin is very tough, not much is usually needed in the way of wound care. A torn toenail, or one clipped too close, will bleed, in which case you should clean the area and then apply the styptic powder or gel to stop the bleeding. If styptic powder isn’t available, gently dragging the injured toe over a wet bar of soap can also build up a small protective layer that can help stop the bleeding. If any part of your ferret is injured to the point of bleeding beyond a torn toenail, it is best to call a vet, but cleaning the wound and attempting to cover it by yourself until you can get professional care can help (especially if it stops the bleeding).
Wound care is a bit different for horses than the methods described above for household pets. Their large size, barn living spaces, and frequent time outside makes proper care and dressing wounds even more important, and it also makes calling a professional vet necessary almost every time. Even a seemingly minor wound in a horse, such as a small puncture or cut, can be very dangerous if it happens over a joint or specific muscle area.
Some supplies you can keep on hand to treat injuries before a vet can arrive are as follows:
- A hose for rinsing the wound
- Diluted betadine solution
- Materials for a compression bandage (a step by step guide with pictures can be found here)
- Equine wound care spray, preferably with silver sulfadiazine, like Fauna Care Equine
Rinse the wound with the hose to dislodge any debris, as the presence of debris increases the risk of infection and makes it harder for vets to suture the wound if that’s needed. Once any noticeable debris has been washed away, clean the area with diluted betadine solution. It’s recommended that the betadine be mixed with sterile water until the color resembles a strong black tea. Wrap the layers of compression bandage around the wound if it will be more than an hour before the vet arrives.
The vet will probably clean the wound again before taking any extra steps to ensure it will heal (like before suturing a cut). They may apply a wound spray to aid in healing. After the vet has treated the injury, make sure to change the bandages every 24 hours. Otherwise, the healing process will be slowed or interrupted by the likes of infection or “proud flesh”, a condition where the new skin that grows to mend and fill the wound comes in rough, patchy, and red or pink. When this condition occurs, new skin is unable to grow and cover the area now covered in the “proud flesh”, and this can be serious for the horse.
A vet will need to be called again to determine what part of the proud flesh may need to be removed, which of course leads to the need for another medical procedure that will be uncomfortable for the horse and costly for the owner. It will also significantly increase the healing time needed. For more information, the Kansas State University Veterinary Health Center has a lot of information about horse wound care on their Equine pages.
As a Reminder
Always make sure to have your vet’s phone number on hand and included with any pet first aid supplies. It’s also a good idea to have a list of your pet’s vaccinations with the first aid kit in the event that you must visit or contact a vet that you don’t normally use.
With any kind of open wound on any pet, make sure to check it each day to ensure that healing is progressing and that the wounds are not getting infected. If a wound seems to be infected (swollen, discolored, smells strange, leaking fluid, etc.), contact your vet immediately for care.