Image via iStock.com/hoozone
By Kate Hughes
Animals can be unpredictable creatures—even our true-blue four-legged friends. The most diligent dog owners may find themselves in the scary situation of having their dog be bitten by another dog.
Molly Sumridge, a certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant, says that dog bite incidents are responsible for about 80 percent of her business at Kindred Companions LLC, a dog training company she founded in Frenchtown, New Jersey.
When your pup sustains a dog bite, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, keeping a cool head in the event of a dog bite, knowing what you’re looking for when assessing the injury, and having an idea of what to do next can help ensure that the wounded dog receives the proper care and makes a speedy recovery.
Immediate Dog Bite Aftermath
Dr. Morgan Callahan, VMD at the Center for Animal Referral and Emergency Services (CARES), a 24-hour emergency veterinary care hospital in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, says that if you see a dog bite your dog, the first thing you should do is remove your dog from the situation.
“If the dog is able to walk, allow him to do so. This may calm him and will give you an opportunity to observe the dog’s gait and look for any bleeding,” she says.
If your dog isn’t able to walk, you should carry him, but Dr. Callahan says that even the gentlest dog may bite you when injured or scared, so you should be cautious.
It’s also important to gather as much information as possible. “If the owner is present, ask if the dog is up-to-date on his rabies vaccine,” Dr. Callahan says. “And collect contact information from the pet owner whenever possible.”
Dr. Callahan also notes that if the dog bite takes place on someone’s property, their homeowners insurance may cover some of the medical costs of the bite.
Assessing a Dog Bite
The severity of a dog bite is dependent on a variety of factors. A bite may encompass anything from a tiny nick to a series of wounds that require veterinary attention. Dr. Stacey Rebello, DVM, MS at NorthStar VETS, a veterinary emergency trauma and specialty center in Robbinsville, New Jersey, suggests that dog owners exercise caution when their dog suffers an attack.
“Generally, I recommend that all bite wounds be assessed by a veterinarian. Even tiny puncture wounds resulting from a bite are at a high risk of infection and should be addressed as soon as possible,” she says.
Dr. Callahan adds, “In veterinary school, we are taught that the puncture you see on the outside of the skin is the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in a bite wound injury. This is because a bite is both a crushing and shearing injury. Often, tissue can be damaged under the puncture, and a pocket is created. There may be bleeding or nerve damage under the skin that cannot be seen through the puncture. The tooth carries bacteria with it into the pocket and sets up a good environment for an abscess to form.”
She adds that certain areas of a dog’s body are more prone to complications than others, and that the location of a bite can a factor in whether or not medical treatment is necessary. “The mouth and nose heal very quickly. If a dog gets nicked or scratched there, I wouldn’t be too concerned. However, if the dog gets bit on the legs, the torso, or the neck, or around a joint that can become irritated, that’s when I recommend going to the vet.”
Dr. Callahan says that if your dog is vomiting, acting lethargic or having difficulty breathing, it is an emergency and “should be evaluated by a veterinarian right away.”
Treating Dog Bites
If you take your dog to the vet after a dog bite, here’s what you should expect:
“For smaller bites that don’t require surgical intervention, we normally perform a thorough wound evaluation, clip the surrounding hair, disinfect the region with an antibacterial solution, lavage the wound out with saline and start antibiotics.” explains Dr. Rebello. She says that your veterinarian may also decide to prescribe pain medication for dogs to help your dog feel more comfortable.
In more serious cases, like an infected dog bite, the dog bite treatment may require your dog to be under anesthesia. “If a puncture or deep pocket is found, then the veterinarian will suggest anesthetizing the dog to remove damaged tissues, and [will] place a drain to allow the dog’s body to get rid of any pooling infection,” Dr. Callahan says. “The drain is typically removed in three to five days when the drainage is minimal. Any remaining stitches are removed 10-14 days later. Even with surgery, dogs will often go home the same day with oral antibiotics and pain medication.”
In more serious cases, Dr. Callahan says that X-rays or ultrasounds may be suggested to look for broken bones or contusions. Vets can also use these tools to see if the bite has perforated the chest cavity or abdominal cavity, which is a much more severe case than a superficial wound.
The veterinarian will also assess the situation and decide if quarantine for 10 days and/or a rabies vaccine booster is required. This is usually dependent on the vaccine status of the aggressor.
Preventing Dog Bite Infections
Preventing infection is key after a dog bite. First and foremost, make sure to fully administer any dog antibiotics prescribed by the veterinarian.
It is very important to keep your dog from licking or scratching at their wound. Whether you veterinarian chooses to wrap the wound or not, it is best to be extra safe and use barriers to keep your dog from getting to the site of the wound. Dr. Callahan says that an Elizabethan collar (aka “the cone of shame”) can prevent a dog from licking and recontaminating the wound.
For pet parents who worry about their dog’s comfort while wearing these cones, there are variety of different options available. There are soft versions, like the Comfy Cone E-Collar, that will keep your dog from being able to get to his wound but also allow him to maneuver with ease.
Getting Back to Normal
After a dog attack that results in a dog bite, getting your dog back to her normal, happy self may take some time. Dr. Laurie Bergman, VMD, a veterinary behaviorist who works at NorthStar VETS, says that the first step is identifying the situation that led to the bite.
“If the bite came from another dog who lives in the same house as the dog that got bit, you need to figure out what triggered the biting event. It could have been jostling over a favorite toy that escalated, or a nervous dog getting spooked by the doorbell. Both of these situations can lead to aggression,” she says.
Dr. Bergman adds that if this is the case, owners shouldn’t punish the dog that acted out, as that could make him more anxious and more likely to bite.
Dr. Bergman also says that owners need to be sure they know and understand their dog. “If she’s not happy and relaxed when meeting other dogs, then you shouldn’t put her in those situations. Dog owners need to learn what a dog looks like when relaxed versus when a dog is simply tolerating a situation,” she notes.
“And you need to be prepared to change your plans if something is off. For example, if you are going to the dog park and you see that there are a whole lot of dogs there, but your dog only does well with two or three other dogs, you should go for a nice long leash walk instead,” says Dr. Bergman.
Sumridge notes that dogs who suffer bites will often exhibit behavioral issues. “It isn’t just physical care that’s necessary with a bite, but behavioral care and management are important as well. It’s very likely that a dog will be fearful of whatever caused a bite, so he may be hesitant to interact with other dogs following a dog attack. He also might react aggressively to other dogs, and I mean all other dogs, not just the one who bit him. In this case, it’s imperative that you seek professional help. Don’t force interactions or socialization, because if reintroduction isn’t done properly, it can make the issue worse,” she explains.