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Tips on How to Care for Your Pet’s Drain

At Van Isle Veterinary Hospital, we see all sorts of wounds this time of year! The longer evenings and nicer weather seem to coincide with backyard, territory battles between frisky felines and scrimmages at the beach between canine friends.

Many times, these encounters mean a visit to your vet. Often, smaller wounds resulting from these encounters can be miss-leading and if left untreated, a small puncture or tear from a tooth can lead to a large, infected, necrotic (black, dying tissue) mess underneath the skin. Even worse, these hot, humid days mixed with a moist, open wound makes for the perfect environment for maggots to quickly move in and make themselves at home. Puncture wounds, no matter how big or small should be checked by your veterinarian.

What is a “surgical drain”?

A surgical drain (also known as a Penrose drain) is a soft, latex tube sutured into place under the skin. Drains are placed near the wound and sometimes more than one drain is placed, depending on the size, severity and location of your pet’s wound.

cat fight

Why is a drain used to treat my pet’s wound?

Drains are placed for a multitude of reasons, each with the same end goal; to decrease infection and accelerate the healing process. The function of a drain is to remove unwanted fluid or gas from a wound or body cavity. The fluid will drain out between the skin and the tube, not through the centre of the tube. Essentially the tube acts like a “stint” to keep the wound open while healing occurs.

When is a drain used to treat my pet’s wound?

Surgical drains are often placed in dirty wounds to prevent bacteria from getting trapped under the skin after closure or in the area of an abscess to encourage drainage of the infected fluid. A drain may also be placed in a clean wound that has a lot of space between tissues that is unable to be closed. This is called “dead space.” We often see this after a shaking injury (typically happens when a larger dog grabs and aggressively shakes a smaller dog or a cat) and can be very painful and very serious. Dead space occurs when the skin is lifted/torn and separated away from the muscle layer, leaving a pocket or space between the two layers under the skin. Dead space can increase the chance of fluid build-up in the area which often leads to infection and decay of the skin and surrounding tissue. By placing a drain, we prevent fluid build-up which allows the tissues to heal back together without complication.

My pet just came home from the vet with a surgical drain…now what?

Drains need special care in order for optimum healing to occur. It is important to keep the skin around the drains and incision clean and dry. Use a small amount of antibacterial soap (such as hibtaine soap) and warm water to gently clean the area twice a day until the drain is removed. Do not be afraid to scrub these areas if needed to remove crusty build up, being sure to stick to the areas around the drain opening and away from any sutures. Dry well once cleaned. Always make sure to protect the drain and incision using either a cone or t-shirt to cover the area. Our pet’s, especially cats who are neurotic groomers, will not happily tolerate a foreign object poking out from under their skin! Give all medications as instructed and return to your vet within 3 – 5 days for proper drain removal. 

What supplies will I need at home?

  • A buster collar/cone or T-shirt
  • Gauze
  • Gloves
  • Clean bowl with luke-warm water
  • Hand towel
  • Anti-bacterial skin cleanser
  • Absorbent pads/towels to cover your furniture and pet’s bed

There is a lot of fluid coming out of the drain, is this OK?

Yes! Even though this can be disturbing to see and may cause a mess in your house, fluid discharging from around the drain is a good thing! It is expected that fluid will continue to drain for 3 – 5 days post-surgery. The discharge should be a red/brown or watery red colour. This is normal and will decrease with time.

It’s been 4 days and the fluid has stopped draining…. what’s next?

Depending on the size and location of the wound, drain removal often occurs within 3 – 5 days. Once removed, the wound heals quite quickly and any sutures placed will need to be removed 10 – 12 days after drain removal. Remember, even though the drain is removed, your pet may still damage the area by licking the incision and chewing out the sutures. It is important to keep the cone on or shirt over the area until the sutures are removed.

If in doubt, call for help!

Always call your vet if your pet has:

  • Chewed or removed the drain
  • The discharge is increasing in volume or starts to smell after the first 48 hrs., vs. decreasing
  • Your pet will not allow you to clean the drain
  • Your pet is not taking the prescribed medication
  • Your pet is not eating, is vomiting, has diarrhea or a fever

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