A step-by-step guide on how to treat wounds that doesn't involve antibiotic creams
If you are looking for first aid and a natural approach to wound and incision care for dogs and people and prefer to skip the story, click here. Otherwise, read on.
Wow, what a week! There are some weeks that bring “the same old” and others that are full of action. In my case, the action usually involves nature, dogs, water, sports and yoga, good food, and the company of friends and family—without the drama ;-).
This time, it involved taking dog photos on the beach, a skull laceration, and being hit by a car on my bike. As you can see, I am typing, so no worries, I am okay.
The exception is that the emergency doctor missed a fractured finger. Only a few days later, when my attempts to swim, write, and type the letter “A” with my little finger came with much pain, did my regular doctor discover that they missed a fracture.
I am grateful to have only “small” injuries because it could have been much worse. However, I am going through a sort of withdrawal from swimming and down dogs in yoga. Hopefully, frustration and headaches are only a temporary companion. I am happy to be alive and have even greater respect and empathy for people who have endured severe injury.
What is the link between habits and happiness?
Research says feeling high or low has a lot to do with our inherent tendencies. Some people go between seven to ten out of ten, whereas others are born to fluctuate only between two and five.
Science has now confirmed that happiness is partially a result of our biochemical and neurological makeup, but the other part of our happiness is a result of having the right type of “addictions” or habits.
Humans and dogs have one thing in common: they are genetically programmed for habitual addictive behaviour. The formation of habits first start in the frontal brain and they are later passed on to the brain stem, the so-called reptilian brain. This part of the brain runs programs that are not much different from a dishwasher cycle. It repeats a sequence when a “button” is pushed.
For example, most people who drink coffee or like chocolate will know what I am talking about. Get up > feeling sleepy > go to the kitchen > make a cup of coffee > feeling better > going on with the day > feeling tired > make a cup of coffee.
Dogs are very much like this, too. Beg > bark > treat > bark > treat… or get up > drink > whine > walk > pee > poo > hurray > treat… or out > ball > throw > fetch > stare > throw and repeat times 50!
An honest moment about Skai's habits and mine
Certain habitual behaviours have been programmed over many centuries, but most of it has been consciously or unconsciously programmed through rewards.
Skai learned to “counter surf” when he had the opportunity to snatch a roast from our friend’s counter. This was a jackpot that definitely engraved this habit deeply in his memory. He was a pro at both counter-surfing and surfing!
However, that is not to say my life has not been untouched by habits. I gather my chocolate habit was formed by frequent visits to our family friend when I was a child, we called her Mrs. Kratka, which stands for Mrs. Short in English.
Every time we visited her, she would go to her back room and bring me a chocolate bar. After a few visits, Pavlov would be impressed with my reptilian brain performance.
Ring the doorbell > hug and hi > chat > chocolate > pleasure of eating it > feeling good > goodbye. (As you can see from this 1970's photo here, Mrs. Kratka also knew how to spoil dogs!).
Besides good dark chocolate, I am lucky that my present-day addictions have evolved around yoga, healthy but tasty food, and sports. Nothing is as good as the “feel good endorphin rush” after a swim, run, kitesurfing or bike ride.
Ehmm, well, nothing except freshly baked sourdough bread, lemon tarts, fries (just yesterday!) and good ice cream!
Surfing disasters and treating wounds
Unlike Skai, the master counter surfer, my repeated attempts to surf waves often end with a varied degree of disaster.
My first attempt to body surf took place in Hawaii in 1995, when I was lucky to fracture my thoracic vertebra the “right way” and not the bad way. I later learned that Oahu’s Sandy Beach had a nickname, “The broken neck capital of the world.”
Last year, my attempt to surf resulted in an injured elbow that took six months to heal. Strangely, my love of water and waves tends to override my bad memories.
Just a week ago, I rented a surfboard and dove into the waves off the West Coast of Canada near Tofino, BC. My lack of surfing skills made me misjudge a wave that was too steep. After a few seconds of trying to hang onto my board, it shot up 8 feet above me and landed on my head.
Statistically, there was less than a 5% chance that the surf fin would land on my skull, but it did and sliced my skin open through my neoprene hood. See Day 1 image below.
When “the action” was over, I touched my head and felt a strange depression in my skull. It felt like a dolphin's breathing hole!
When I stumbled to the shore, I took my hood off and, to the horror of bystanders, blood started to stream down my face, making the injury seem much worse than it was. The skull is very well supplied with blood.
The last time I had so much blood streaming down my face was when a disgruntled cat used my face as a scratching post in the clinic, which was a long time ago. It may be one of the reasons why I love dogs, and respect cats from a distance. As a vet, I have learned they are gracious, soft, and cuddly but also highly unpredictable.
Anyhow, the whole surfing mini-drama ended up just fine. Thanks to the Canadian medical system, I was stitched up for free by a really nice physician, who was also a dog lover and a surfer. She did a fine job, and I was able to give her a few tips on safe harnesses for dogs as she was stitching me up!
One problem with conventional wound care
Everyone was friendly, and I have no complaints EXCEPT that the hospital staff gave me zero instructions on how to take care of the wound!
The only thing the nurse did was apply a big blob of Polysporin antibiotic ointment, which I washed off immediately after I came back to the place we were staying.
This whole experience made me come to the conclusion that I am likely not the only one who didn’t get wound care instructions and that I should write up a step-by-step guide to wounds of all kinds and share it with you. So, here it is.
7 simple steps to natural wound care for dogs and people
1. Apply pressure to bleeding wounds. Ideally, use sterile gauze and bandages or Vetrap, but a towel or T-shirt may sometimes do.
2. Carry an emergency kit with you.
3. Rinse the wound with a copious amount of saline or cold running water before seeing a doctor. I personally prefer using water first and then finishing the rinse with saline once the wound is clean because a strong stream helps to wash bacteria and dirt away.
4. Do not use hydrogen peroxide, chlorhexidine soap, iodine or other chemicals. Peroxide destroys the cells on the margin of the wound, slows down healing, and increases scarring. Chlorhexidine soap seems to act in a similar way.
5. See a veterinarian or a doctor if you have larger wounds to have them cleaned and sutured if necessary.
6. In most cases, antibiotics may be unnecessary (I was pleased to see that my emergency doctor didn't prescribe them). Read more on bacterial resistance due to antibiotic overuse.
7. There is no need to use Polysporin and other antibiotic creams in most cases.
Why not use antibiotic ointments?
(A) Antibiotic ointments have now been used for several decades. They kill weaker bacteria but in doing so, they “clear cut the bacterial population,” which promotes resistant superbug growth.
(B) Antibiotic ointments have petroleum jelly as a base. Petroleum jelly is made of crude oil, and it is not biologically appropriate.
(C) Wounds treated with antibiotic ointment get red, inflamed and appear to take longer to heal.
(D) Greasy petroleum-based products clog up the skin's pores and prevent the wound from breathing.
Natural approach to wound care (and how I healed my surfboard wound)
1. Use a stream of body-temperature or slightly colder water to rinse off discharge.
2. Take a piece of gauze and soak off all scabs until you see nothing more than wound margins and stitches.
3. If your vet or doctor inserted a drain tube to prevent fluid buildup, do the same, but do not spray water directly inside the drain tube opening. If your vet recommended flushing the drain area, use a saline solution and a syringe to rinse the wound. You can still use gauze and a stream of water on the outside of the wound to prevent thick scabs and drying discharge from sticking to the skin.
4. Dry the wound off with sterile gauze.
5. Apply Skin Spray. If the wound is deeper, apply the spray liberally on a piece of gauze or, better yet, a non-stick dressing. Apply it to the wound and secure it with a bandage or Vetrap (3M). 6. Clean the wound twice daily while it is discharging (2-3 days is normal) and then once daily from then on.
7. Sutures are usually removed in 7-10 days depending on the nature of the wound.
8. I prefer to apply removable stitches to general wounds and absorbable stitches in surgical incisions as they are clean and less likely to cause irritation and problems.
Why I prefer soaking scabs off wounds
It is my experience that nine out of 10 people, or perhaps 99 out of 100, believe that scabs should be left intact as they cover the wound. However, what I have discovered over the course of 30 years in practice is that thick scabs cause several issues:
- Greater likelihood of pus and infection
- Bigger scars as they often cause secondary skin irritation, redness, and skin thickening around the wound
- Increased pain or discomfort due to cracking
- Prolonged healing
How to avoid thick scabs
Soak scabs off gently by rinsing the wound first, then apply a wet gauze and allow enough time for softening. If you do this initially twice daily or later daily, a thick scab will not form, you will speed up healing and decrease scarring.
Allow only a thin scab to form after 5 days or so but it should not be more than 1mm thick.
For example, you can see the comparison between my wound on Day 1 versus on Day 9 and how quickly and well it healed.
9 DAYS AND I SWEAR NO PHOTOSHOP!
How Skin Spray can help you heal faster
I formulated Skin Spray in the early 2000’s and have been using it since on all wounds including wound care after major surgeries. The formula has exceeded all of my expectations and received positive reviews from our customers too. There are four natural ingredients in Skin Spray that aid in wound healing:
- Golden Seal for antibacterial and antiviral properties
- Calendula for wound healing
- Yucca for reducing inflammation and wound healing
- Witch Hazel as an astringent and to reduce redness, inflammation and pain
Skin Spray helps healing through the synergy of its herbs and is not considered an antibiotic. As such, it helps to reduce the use of antibiotics which has a direct effect on reducing superbugs and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Human influence on nature and the environment often causes problems that need to be solved. Learning how to treat wounds naturally will positively affect your health and the health of all your animal friends.