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Stitches, staples and sutures… Different forms of wound closures for dogs
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Stitches, staples and sutures… Different forms of wound closures for dogs

If your dog is unlucky enough to get an injury that is too deep, large or ragged to heal properly on its own, your vet will need to look at the various options available to close the wound manually to allow the skin to heal and prevent infections. This may be the case if your dog has an operation such as spaying, or anything else that involves making an incision in the skin, but wound closures may also be needed for cuts and tears, bite injuries from other dogs, and a variety of other reasons too.

When we refer to a dog having stitches or sutures, we tend to think of these being done by means of a needle and surgical thread in the traditional manner, and this is often the case, but there are a variety of different means of closing wounds, of which traditional stitches are just one. In this article, we will look at the different types of wound closures your vet may use for your dog, and how they differ from each other.

Types of stiches

Stitches done with surgical thread and a needle come in two forms: absorbable and non-absorbable.

Absorbable stitches

Absorbable stitches are made of a special material that is designed to break down over time, allowing the dog’s body to naturally absorb the material without the need for the stitches to be removed at a later date. They are designed to last long enough to provide the necessary closure of the wound, be it internal or external, and promote normal healing. Absorbable stitches are usually used internally, to suture muscle, organs and the subcutaneous layers of the skin.

Absorbable stitches have the benefit of not needing later removal, and your dog is less likely to be able to pick at them or scratch them while they are healing. If your vet told you that you do not need to bring your dog back to have their sutures removed, this is almost certainly the type of stitches used, although your vet may well arrange a follow-up appointment with you anyway to check that everything is healing as it should.

It is worth noting that in a very small proportion of cases, the body of the dog will reject the stitches instead of absorbing them, which can cause inflammation and other problems.

Non-absorbable stitches

Stitches that are non-absorbable are the traditional form of stitches that do not break down naturally in the body over time, and so will necessitate removal by your vet or a veterinary nurse at a later date. These stitches are the strongest type of stitches, and the thread itself is generally made of materials such as nylon or other synthetic substances that are very strong and easy to keep sterile. These stitches require removal around one to two weeks after the operation or procedure, as they will not go away on their own!

Non-absorbable stitches tend to produce a smaller scar than absorbable stitches, as the body does not have to generate an immune reaction to break them down.

Surgical staples

Another option available to your vet in place of traditional stitches is surgical staples, which comes with a range of advantages over traditional stitching. Stapling a wound closed works exactly how it sounds; surgical staples, usually made of steel, are applied to the skin using a special form of staple gun designed for the purpose.

Stapling a wound has the advantages of being more accurate than stitching, as well as much quicker, and requires less dexterity and skin than stitching a wound closed manually. Staples are usually used to close wounds on the skin rather than internally, and must be removed after a week to two weeks, as of course they are not absorbed by the body.

Adhesives

Some wounds can be closed with surgical adhesives, or to call it by its common name, skin glue. Skin glue is easier to use and less invasive than either stitches or staples, but they are not suitable for all wounds, as they are not as strong as other methods, and so are usually used on small, superficial wounds only. Over time, the body naturally absorbs the glue, healing naturally.

Butterfly stitches

Butterfly stitches, or steri-strips, are not actually stitches at all, but strong layers of thin fabric with a skin-safe adhesive on the back of them, which can be used to pull the sides of a wound together, allowing it to knit back together naturally. Butterfly stitches are generally used on small or superficial wounds that may potentially have closed up safely on their own, but just needed a little extra push to close up! Steri-strips lose their adhesive power naturally after a couple of days, and will either fall off or can be gently pulled off, leaving the wound to continue scabbing and healing on its own.

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