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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Abdominal Wounds View In Dogs

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Only a thin layer of skin, fat, and muscle protects the stomach, intestines, liver, and other abdominal organs - called the viscera - from the outside world. Abdominal wounds are common and are nearly always serious because the organs are easily bruised and torn.


Pets hunch their backs when their abdomen hurts, or flinch when touched and refuse to move.


Injuries from car accidents, falls, or even kicks from horses may not show on the outside, while animal bites or torn spay incisions often split open the abdomen so that the organs spill out and are exposed to infection.


If your pet doesn't seem to be in pain and the wound hasn't penetrated the abdomen, you can treat it at home. Severe abdominal wounds are medical emergencies. They are painful whether the organs are exposed or not.

Since it can be difficult to tell whether a wound has penetrated the abdominal cavity, have your vet examine any abdominal puncture or wound. Bite marks may look minor, but they may have serious consequences.


The body produces chemicals like epinephrine (adrenaline) that help a pet survive the initial trauma, they they last for only 10 - 20 minutes. First aid will keep your pet alive until you reach medical help, and it can prevent life threatening complications like infection.

For Penetrating Wounds

  1. Check for signs of shock - severe injury often causes shock, which makes the organs shut down from lack of oxygen. A pet in shock acts weak or woozy. His eyelids droop, and he may have a pale tongue or gums. Shock can kill a pet in as little as 10 - 20 minutes, and he will need immediate veterinary care to survive.
    • If signs of shock are present, wrap the dog in a blanket to keep him warm - this can slow down the shock process
    • Drive directly to the animal clinic
    • You can also put a drop or two of Karo syrup or honey on your pet's gums to help keep him conscious.
  2. Apply Pressure - If the injury bleeds, apply direct pressure to the wound with a clean cloth or gauze pad. If the blood seeps through, don't remove the pad - just stack another over the first and continue the pressure. Removing the pad will disturb any clots that are forming. If the bleeding comes from the intestines or another organ that is exposed, you may be able to squeeze a bit of the tissue between your thumb and the tips of two fingers, using a moistened sterile gauze pad, a clean moistened towel, or even a cotton makeup square over the wound.

    Apply as much pressure as you would expect to use to burst a ripened grape. Organs tend to be so soft that pressure does not work as well as squeezing. If the bleeding continues, maintain the pressure while someone transports you and your pet to the hospital.

  3. Protect the wound - Cover the puncture or cut to keep germs from entering the wound. Contamination that infects the inside of the body can be deadly, even when the wound itself looks minor. It takes only about 1 hour for bacteria to get a foothold, so it is important to treat the injury very quickly.

    Use a thick pad of clean folded towels or sheets, then wrap an elastic bandage, such as an Ace bandage, around the body to hold it on. If you don't have an elastic bandage, you can use panty hose to tie the pad in place. Make sure that it is loose enough for you to slip your fingers between the bandage and your pet's back so he can breathe comfortably.

  4. Rinse the organs - If the viscera are exposed outside the body and medical help is more than 20 minutes away, thoroughly but gently rinse the organs with sterile saline contact lens solution. If that is unavailable, use clean lukewarm water. This helps reduce contamination by mechanically rinsing contaminants away and diluting them. It also helps keep tissues moist - organ tissue dies if it dries out.

  5. Put the organs back - Protruding organs and intestines may be gently pushed back into your pet's abdominal cavity once they've been rinsed.

    Soak gauze pads or a clean, lint-free pillow case or a clean bath towel with sterile saline contact lens solution or lukewarm water and use it to place the organs inside. If you use your bare hands, wash them first with antiseptic or wear disposable medical gloves, as to not introduce bacteria into the body.

    Hold the organs in place with a firmly applied belly band made from plastic wrap like Saran Wrap or a plastic garbage bag. Place it over the moist pads or cloth, wrap it around your pet's body, and tape it in place. Make sure that the band is not wrapped too tightly - it just needs to hold the covered organs in place.

    If you can't return the organs to the abdominal cavity, wrap them in a clean, wet bath towel like a sling around your pet's belly until you get him to the animal hospital. Make sure that all organs are covered.

  6. Numb the pain with ice - Don't give your pet a pain medicine like aspirin, because it can interfere with the ability of the blood to clot and make the bleeding worse. Instead, you can apply an ice pack against the wound outside the protective bandage. The ice pack will help numb the pain, and the cold can also help slow the bleeding.

  7. Move your pet carefully - Transport your pet on a rigid, stable surface to keep from jostling the organs even more. Small dogs and cats do best in pet carriers and boxes. Don't carry the pet in your arms because that can increase her stress levels and make the shock worse.

    If you don't have a box of carrier, you can use a flat board or even a trash can lid, as long as it is sturdy enough to bear your pet's weight without buckling. Cover the carrier with a clean towel, then move the pet carefully, keeping her as still as possible.

For Non-Penetrating Wounds
  1. Clip your pet's fur - To clean wounds that don't penetrate into the abdomen, first shave or cut the fur away from the injury. This will remove one of the biggest sources of bacteria and can help prevent infection. Use electric clippers or carefully clip the fur with blunt scissors. If you are using scissors, first slip your index and second fingers through the fur and hold them against the wound. Cut the fur level with your fingers, clipping a 1 inch border around the wound. TO keep the clippings from sticking to the wound, coat it with a thin layer of water-soluble lubricant like K-Y Jelly. The cut fur will adhere to the jelly, and you can wash it away with a gentle stream of water.

  2. Cleanse the wound - You can use warm water and a clean washcloth to wipe off visible wounds as long as they haven't penetrated into the abdomen. If there is a lot of crusting or cheesy looking white, green, yellow, or black debris, the best way to clean it off is with lukewarm tap water from a handheld shower or sprayer. Rinse the area gently with the water until the debris softens. Then, wearing a disposable medical glove, gently ease the crusty discharge away.

    Do this once or twice daily as needed for the first 2 - 3 days, but don't wash the wound if it looks like a healthy scab is forming.

Special Note : If your pet is in pain, he may attempt to bite by reflex. To help him, you may need to safely restrain him and protect yourself. Muzzle dogs with a necktie, panty hose, or leash. Tie it around your dog's snout and knot it on top of the muzzle, then draw the ends beneath his chin and knot again. Finally, pull the ends back and tie them behind his ears.

For a cat or short-nosed dog like a pug, slip a pillowcase over his head. DO NOT do either of these techniques if your pet is having trouble breathing.


The enforcement of common safety techniques can reduce the opportunity for injuries such as this.


Nearly all pets with abdominal wounds need antibiotics to prevent or treat infection. Generally, you give the medicine 2 - 3 times a day for 10 - 21 days, depending on the situation.

To administer a pill to your pet, gently press his lips against the sides of his teeth to prompt him to open his mouth, then quickly push the pill to the back of his tongue. Hold his mouth closed with one hand and stroke his throat with the other to help him swallow, or gently blow into his nostrils so that he will swallow. Pets will often lick their nose after swallowing.

A cat will be tougher to pill, and you don't want her to struggle after a traumatic injury, so the veterinarian may prescribe liquid antibiotics. Give liquid medicine by inserting the pre-measured dropper (or needless syringe) into the corner of your pet's mouth and slowly squirt it into the cheek cavity. Tip her head up so she must swallow and so the medicine doesn't dribble out. Stroke her throat until you see her swallow - you may need to give just a few drops at a time to be sure she gets it all.

Open abdominal wounds need stitches and often drain to get rid of infectious material. Keep the area clean by gently sponging it off with a cloth or gauze pad soaked in warm water. Cats usually don't bother sutures, but dogs often lick and chew the stitches and can re-open the wound. Paint on Bitter Apple, a vile tasting liquid, to stem the chewing, or use a cone shaped collar restraint (also known as Elizabethan collar) to prohibit the pet from licking the area and let the wound heal. Don't forget to remove it at meal times so she can eat.

Depending on the severity of the wound, you may need to limit your pet's activity and prevent him from climbing stairs, running, or jumping. Crate or cage rest may be required for pets with extensive injuries. Walk pets only on a leash and prevent rough housing, even if your pet wants to play, because any vigorous activity can cause reinjury or tear in internal stitches.

Show Sources & Contributors +


The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

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