buster collar

How to stop your dog damaging her stitches

Is your dog injured? And nibbling his stitches? You have to protect the wound to promote healing, but there are many ways to do this! | FREE EMAIL COURSE | dog training, dog health | #doghealth, #dogbehavior, #dogscratching | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

At some stage in his or her life, your dog will need stitches. Could be for neutering, a gash or tear, or something more serious.  

Some dogs will lick obsessively at a wound. This causes skin changes, it inhibits healing, and can introduce infection. So it’s essential that the wound is allowed to heal without being licked and nibbled at.

Many years ago one of my dogs came back from the vet wearing a modified wastepaper bin on his head. They’d cut the base out of it, leaving nasty ragged plastic edges. While protecting the wound they had made in surgery, it created sore patches and cuts all around his neck where it chafed. 

Vets now use a ready-made collar which comes packed flat. This is known as an “Elizabethan” or “Buster” collar to attach to your dog’s own collar. These are large lampshade-type constructions which will fit any size dog. 

They annoy mightily, but they don’t do any damage. Except when the dog catches it in a doorway and it digs into his neck. Or gets food all over the edges. Or is unable to get a drink without spilling the water bowl.

For indoor use only

If your dog needs this to protect the wound, then go for it. But if he’s well enough to go for a walk with you, please take it off! It crashes into things, its appearance will cause problems with other dogs, and it distorts your dog’s hearing so that when you call he’ll head off in the direction he’s facing - as that’s where the sound seems to be coming from! 

If your dog is busy running around, sniffing, and being a dog, he won’t be licking his wound.

There are alternatives. I haven’t tried one, but there are cushion-type collars that are supposed to prevent the dog turning his head round to reach the wound. I guess these could be very effective, depending on the position of the wound, and the elasticity of the dog. For dogs who are able to turn and meet themselves coming back, this probably wouldn't work.

A t-shirt that covers the area may be quite enough. Depending on the size of your dog, you can put a child’s or adult’s t-shirt on him. Tie all the excess material in a knot over his rump, so he can still pee without getting in a mess. 

If your dog can’t leave the wound alone, then obviously the bonnet stays firmly on. 

Coco looks like Buzz Lightyear in his bonnet! You have to protect the wound to promote healing, but there are many ways to do this | FREE EMAIL COURSE | dog training, dog health | #doghealth, #dogbehavior, #dogscratching | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

Not just licking!

Another time when it’s essential is when the wound is on the face or head. A quick scratch with a powerful hind leg can do untold damage in seconds. Dogs never seem to do the minimum scratching necessary to relieve the irritation - they scratch for what seems a pre-determined period, by which time the stitches may all be ripped out. Keep your hat on!

Here's Coco doing his Buzz Lightyear impression ...

But I’ve found that often nothing at all is needed. If I’m watching over my dog I can interrupt any interest in the wound site. The techniques good vets use these days mean that the incision is often tiny and can have minimal stitches or staples or glue to hold it together. So you don’t get the pulling and tweaking you can get with lots of stitches.

Years ago a surgeon told me that they had reduced healing time in his wards dramatically by making the bandages impossible for the patient to interfere with - thus letting the healing take place unhindered - and by having a lounge between the different-sex wards where patients could mingle. This added interest gave them something else to focus on! 

You can do the same by ensuring your dog can’t get at the wound, and by giving him lots of other things to amuse him, including walks, or play in your garden, if appropriate and advised by your vet. Otherwise you can stick to “brain games” - searching, chewing, unwrapping, etc, or just plain ole companionship.

So try relieving your dog of the burden of the dreadful bonnet! You may find it’s only needed occasionally if at all.


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