Cats are tough, resilient pets, and when they get hurt, it can often be hard to know just had bad it is or isn’t. With their natural curiosity, cats are known for getting into things they shouldn’t, and lacerations can be a common result from a too adventerous escapade. Figuring out the answer to the question, “Does my cat need stitches,” can be challenging, so we’ve put together some information to help. Of course, if you’re ever in doubt, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and get your kitty to your veterinarian for an exam. Remember, once a wound is more than a few hours – a day old, stitching it up becomes even harder and the risk of infection increases so time really is of the essence.
A Recent Case of a Cat Requiring Sutures
Recently, we had a patient’s cat that lives on a farm come inside with a laceration on the shoulder. However, like most cats, it wasn’t obvious at first that the kitty was injured. The first evening, the cat was standoffish and didn’t want to be picked up or pet which was unusual. By the next evening, the laceration was apparent and an appointment was made to bring him into the office.
The following morning, by the time they made it to the office, the wound had opened up even more. Due to the age of the wound – estimating 2-3 days old at this point – the cat needed to be sedated and the wound debrided. That’s when the edges of the wound are trimmed to allow fresh skin to be exposed with better blood flow to give the stitches a chance to heal. It was a long shot due to the age and size of the wound, but fortunately the cat was in good health otherwise and signs of infection at this stage were minimal.
The procedure went well, and after about two weeks, the stitches were able to be removed. Throughout that time, the cat had daily bandage changes to keep the wound clean and promote healing and due to the location, a cone couldn’t be used so instead the owner utilized baby clothes and small dog sweaters to keep the cat from pulling off the bandage (tip: see our blog about “Alternatives to the Cone of Shame for Cats” for more great ideas). When all was said and done, this story had a happy ending and the wound healed incredibly well, but those first few days when the wound wasn’t yet apparent, definitely made the healing process longer. So what do you look for if you are wondering, “does my cat need stitches?”
Answering the Question, “Does My Cat Need Stitches?”
First, if you notice any behavior change out of the ordinary, make sure to examine your cat closely. Cats don’t always show their pain and tend to be very stoic, so something as even appearing a little standoffish when your kitty is usually a cuddler could be a clue.
Next, if there’s any changes in the way your cat is eating or using the litter box, take heed as this is usually a sign that something is amiss. Anything from a UTI to an upset belly from a hairball can cause a change in behavior, however you’ll want to look closely to see if your cat has any cuts or injuries that could also be the culprit.
In many cases, such as the example above, the wound was not bleeding and it wasn’t easy to see under the fur but once it was apparent, it opened more and rapidly got worse. By the time the cat was seen by the vet, there was as chance that the sutures wouldn’t hold – and they almost didn’t! But fortunately for this cat and owner, it all worked out in the end. It just goes to show what may seem like a small scab or scrape can really be much larger upon closer inspection. If you’re not sure, it’s always a good idea to get your cat to the animal hospital right away as even a smaller wound left unattended can breed infection and a host of other issues that can cause all sorts of complications.
When you do see an open wound on your cat, it’s always a good idea to wipe it off with warm water and a soft towel to get a closer look if your cat will let you. In many cases, because of the flexibility of feline skin, stitches can help the healing process speed up dramatically. And because cats groom themselves, it’s also likely that an open wound can get worse if the cat starts to obsessively lick or clean the area.
Whenever the wound is fresh, larger in size or area, or is bleeding, your cat may need stitches. If your cat won’t let you get a closer look, or you are not sure how big the wound is or if it could be infected, a veterinary visit should be imminent so that your cat can be sedated and have the wound properly cleaned and examined. Antibiotics are often used to reduce the chance of infection, and depending on the size and depth of the laceration, pain medication may also be prescribed. Because cats are naturally jumpers and can be quite active, in some cases, your cat may also need a sedative to help keep them calm and still as the stitches help the wound heal. The best course of action whenever your kitty is injured is to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible and in the event of an emergency, get your cat to a clinic right away! The sooner the wound is treated, the sooner your cat will be back to their happy purring self.