If your dog popped a stitch, you may be concerned and wondering what to do about it. There is really no sure answer though to this query. It all depends on several factors such as how the incision over all looks like, its location, whether the dog is acting normal and what type of stitches the veterinarian used. While popping a stitch is not always an emergency situation, things can worsen quickly if no precautions are taken. However, as the saying goes "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," the best approach is to therefore prevent your dog from popping a stitch in the first place. Following is information about stitches and what to do if your dog popped a stitch from veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec.
How Stitches Hold Tissues Together
Stitches can be defined as loops of thread doctors and veterinarians use to join two tissues together. Once the edges of the tissues are touching, the doctor/veterinarian ties the thread in a knot.
Stitches need to stay in place for a specific amount of time. The timeframe ranges from a few days to 1 to 2 weeks. In some rare cases, the stitches need to stay in place for several months. Generally speaking, the average healing time frame for a routine surgical procedure is 7 to 10 days.
The exact healing time depends on several factors such as: the surgical procedure, the type of suture, the overall dog's health and the dog's age. There are several types of sutures veterinarians may use.
Types of Sutures Used by Veterinarians
Doctors and veterinarians use a plethora of different threads called sutures. The sutures can be classified based on several criteria.
Absorbability: absorbable sutures over time break down on their own, while non-absorbable sutures– require manual removal by the veterinarian.
Material structure: monofilament – cause lower degree of tissue irritation, multifilament (braided) – provide better knot security, barb (knotless monofilament) – have barbs or projections on the surface which penetrate and hold the tissues thus eliminating the need for making knots.
Size: depending on the diameter of the thread sutures are available in many sizes.
Raw material origin: natural – silk and catgut, synthetic
Presence of coating: coated – the coating is added to enhance certain properties such as reduced tissue reaction, easier passage through tissues or better knotting. Non-coated.
Placement location: general, dental, ophthalmic, cardiovascular
Layers of Suture
How many layers of suture can one wound have? If the surgical incision extends through several tissue layers, each layer is closed separately. This is mainly because different layers require different suturing techniques. Additionally, having each layer sutured separately promotes higher security – if one layer’s sutures become loose or come out, the other layers’ sutures will hold the wound.
Simply put, a single incision may have multiple rows of sutures or just one row. It all depends on the location of the incision.
For example, the incision made during spay procedures is usually closed in three rows (muscles, subcutaneous tissue and skin). On the ultimate or superficial layer the stitches can be buried beneath the skin’s surface or placed directly on the skin’s surface.
How Do Dogs Pop a Stitch?
Licking wounds is a natural behavior, and from your dog’s perspective a surgical incision is simply a wound. Your vet may give you an Elizabethan collar or a plastic neck brace that prevents your dog from licking the surgical site.
Both you and your dog may initially object to this restriction, but removing it may lead to excess licking. This may, in turn, pull out the stitches and they would then have to be replaced. It is of upmost importance to limit your dog’s activity until the wound heals. Being too active increases the healing time and the chances of the stitches opening up or coming out.
If your dog manages to pull out its stitches, chances are he will eat them. If ingested, sutures usually dissolve during their passage through the digestive system. However, it is not uncommon for a suture to find its way out through the poop.
Although eating the stitch is not harmful on its own, finding a stitch in your dog’s poop is an alarm because it indicates the wound may be opened. Once the wound is opened the risk of infection is much higher.
Help, My Dog Popped a Stitch!
How to deal with missing stitches and gaps in the incision? It is advisable to have the incision checked at least twice a day. To keep better track of them you should know how many stitches your dog has. It is also important to know the characteristics of a normal incision. Ideally, a normal incision should have clean edges and surrounding area and there should be all the sutures. It is normal to see some moderate bruising around the edges and clear to blood-tinged discharge as long as it is in small amounts and only during the first 24 to 72 hours.
Once you know how normal incisions look like it will be easier to spot abnormalities. The signs of wound infection include the following:
- Odorous discharge (usually bright green pus)
- Loss of appetite
Both infection and open wound are medical emergencies and require immediate veterinary attention. Infections are the biggest threat to a wound. They not only prolong the healing time, but the pus puts extra tension on the remaining stitches thus making them more prone to coming out.
If you notice missing stitches and gaps in the incision take your dog at the vet’s office. Never attempt managing the situation on your own. Warning: using alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to clean the wound is a major mistake!
Based on how many stitches are missing, the vet may suggest re-suturing the wound. To manage the infection and prevent further complications the vet will prescribe antibiotics.
Can Stitches Be Avoided?
The answer is both yes and no. Although it is true that there are other alternatives unfortunately they are not always applicable. Those other options include:
- Adhesive strips
- Butterfly tape
- Tissue glue
- Special staples.
The above mentioned alternatives are suitable only for straight and clean wounds such as surgical incisions.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.
She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.
Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.