Tuesday, December 10, 2013

How to Remove Your Dog's Stitches at Home

I've recently had to do this with my dog Zelda, and out of curiosity I looked online. There is terrible advice out there. I thought maybe I could improve on it a little... and have illustrations!

There are many reasons to want to do this at home. I'm a stay-at-home mom, and even if I had a car during the day, it would be a pain to pack up kid and dog and drive to the vet for a five minute procedure they'd just have an assistant do.

My vet offers suture-removals as a free follow-up procedure. They don't even require an appointment for it. They often tell pet owners that they can remove sutures themselves if they feel up to it. It's probably going to be less stressful on the pet if it's done at home by familiar people.

Other reasons you may not want to bring your pet back to the vet for this simple procdure: They get stressed by travel or being at the vet; they don't like strangers touching them; you live a long distance from the vet, or work during their open hours (my vet is open on the weekends, but they're also super busy during this time).


 ...its for a major surgery like a spay. Modern surgery techniques include "buried" sutures which dissolve on their own and MUST NOT be removed (even if you can see them peeking out of the skin a little). This guide is for simple lacerations of skin/muscle. Your vet will tell you specifically when and if sutures need to be removed (usually within 10-14 days)

...your vet wants to re-check the sutured area. Bring your pet in.

...the area is swollen, hot, and/or painful to the touch. Bring your pet to the vet ASAP if these signs appear.

...there is excessive bleeding. A small amount of blood can be normal when pulling out a suture, but if it's dripping, STOP and consult your vet. Sometimes it means the area has not healed enough yet, and sometimes it means something is wrong.

DO NOT USE hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol.

These harsh disinfectants can damage tissue, plus they're needlessly painful. If the wound is ready to have sutures removed, a disinfectant is probably unnecessary. If you feel the need, use betadine soloution or a triple antibiotic paste.

How to Remove Sutures

Step 0: Assess your pet

If they (like my dog) trust you and are used to being handled, this is a one-person job. If they unused to being handled, are nervous, young, and/or wiggly, get someone to hold them still. If they are terrified and will struggle, scream, claw, and/or bite you, leave this to professionals who, at the very least, will get the job (and stress) over with quickly.

Step 1: Assemble your stuff. You'll need:

  • Good lighting
  • Something to snip the suture. They make special suture scissors for this; you can also use small scissors; one of the small tools on a Swiss Army Knife would probably work; I used fingernail clippers
  • Tweezers (optional)
  • Damp rag or paper towel (optional)
  • Treats or other reward

Step 2: Clean your instrument(s) with soapy water

Rule of thumb: make them as clean as you would a food utensil. If you're dealing with an otherwise-healthy animal and the wound is almost healed, sterilization or disinfectants are not needed.

Step 3: Dampen the area with water or betadine solution

(Optional if scabs aren't in the way) Gently loosen and remove any scabs that block your access to the suture (it's normal for scabs to completely cover sutures). If this is painful for your pet, get them good and damp and give them 10-15 minutes to soften before removing.

Step 4: Count the sutures

This sounds silly, but take it from someone who's done this countless times on a variety of different wounds that it's surprisingly difficult at times to tell if you've missed any, especially if they're hidden by scabs. You can also call your vet and ask - they should note in the chart how many sutures they put in.

Step 5: Pull up on knot

Using tweezers or your fingers, grasp the knot or one of the cut ends and gently pull up slightly. This will reveal part of the loop of suture buried in the skin.

Step 6: Cut the loop. 

Cut just one side of the loop, and try not to cut the knot itself. This is the trickiest part as it requires steady hands, good vision, and the pet to hold very still

Step 7: Gently pull the entire suture free.

It may take a bit of tugging to get it out. If it's painful, leave it for a couple hours and and pull it out later.

Step 8: Reward your pet.

This thing you just did probably weirded them out. A little praise and bit of hot dog will go a long ways to letting you do this to them again in the future.

Other notes:

There are many types and sizes of suture. If it's semi-translucent purple, blue, or brown, and is plastic-y (a bit like fishing line) then its the type that will dissolve over time. If it's white or cream-colored and flat and fiber-y like a ribbon, than it will not dissolve and may be harder to snip.

If you accidentally leave part of the suture in the skin and are unable to pull it out, don't panic. If it's the dissolvable suture, it will slowly absorb over the next few months. Monitor the area daily for signs of infection. If it's the non-dissolvable, still don't panic. Call your vet for advice.

I've seen dogs try to eat the sutures/their own scabs. It's gross, but nothing to worry about.


Samantha Stiles said...

My dog recently had surgery in her head, and it was an adventure, to say the least to remove the stitches. I enjoyed your post, very informative. I posted your link to my blog.


Andrea said...

Thanks for the info. I adopted a dog from a local shelter and he still had stitches from being neutered. They didn't say anything about it when I adopted him and I didn't notice them until later that day. I emailed them (it was after hours) and they just told me to remove them at home this weekend. I was nervous about it, but your post was very informative.

contina glover said...

Thank you so much for your post. My yorkie had to have a section. We were so nervous to TRY it but you did a Great job explaining how to do this. Thank you for your post.

Anonymous said...

really helpful

Leah Graham said...

Thank you for this article. It is an interesting and informative one.
The Rock 'n' Roll Dog

Jamie said...

Thanks so much! You saved me a visit to the emergency vet!

Samantha said...

Extremely helpful. Thanks for posting!

Unknown said...

Very informative! Thank you for posting.

Anonymous said...

You did an awesome job, thanks!

Unknown said...

After getting nutured our 4 yr old dog wont let the vets take his sutures out so me and my husband have to do it any tips please feeling nervous.

June said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RM Lilly said...

Post suture removal recommendation- The only thing that I would add to this thread is that my dog was more relaxed when I added a little pressure to both sides of her skin as I wiggled the stitches out... (imagine a peace sign with finger on either side of stitch)Other than that, it went well. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! Getting ready to do this in a few days, and very helpful!I would have tried to cut the knot...so thanks!

Suzanne said...

Glad it's helpful! And thanks for adding the tip, RM Lilly.

Roswitha said...

It's 9 days since Billie's lump removal and can't see the vet for several more days so attempted this myself as all seemed healed. First 3 stitches a breeze but after cutting the next one no other bit came out and I can't see anymore of it. Leaving the other 2 to attempt tomorrow. Just now wondering why there wasn't any remaining loop on the one which only had the knotted part come out or off???

Suzanne said...

That's pretty common Roswitha. An excellent thing to talk to your vet about.

Mookie said...

Thanks so much. Your article was very clear and informative. I will be getting ready to remove the stitches in my dog's ear in a couple days.

Anonymous said...

I am a RVT for many yrs, this is good step-by-step instructional. I would only caution pet owners, if you're really not comfortable attempting it, DON'T. Just make the trip to the vet.