Bite Wounds In Dogs
One of the most common reasons dogs see their veterinarians for emergency appointments is due to bite wounds. Estimates suggest that bite wounds account for about ten percent of the traumatic injuries that veterinarians see on a routine basis. The bite wound may have been caused by another family dog or by a fight with a neighbor's dog or another unfamiliar animal.
Preventing Bite Wounds
Keep your dog on a leash when you are outdoors, especially if you are in a park. Do not allow your dog to roam freely outside of your backyard. If your backyard is not fenced, you must not allow the dog to run free in your own yard. Further, if you are outside with your dog and you see another dog running free, do not approach the other dog. Even if your dog is gentle and friendly, you do not know the temperament of the other dog. Additionally,dogs that are well-mannered are less likely to fight; therefore, basic obedience training is recommended.
Reasons Dogs Bite
Biting is often part of aggressive play for puppies. In adult dogs, there are multiple motives or causes for aggressive behaviors, such as biting. Aggressive behaviors, such as snarling, growling, lunging, snapping, or biting, are used as a means of communication. These behaviors are also used to resolve competitive issues over food, territory, the owner's attention, or position in a group or pack. Further, aggressive behaviors are often a reaction to perceived threats, such as protective reactions towards another dog.
Injuries Caused By Dog Bites
Dog bites can cause significant injury to the skin and soft tissues. Even bites that do not break the skin can cause bruising or crushing injuries to the underlying soft tissues. A dog's teeth and jaws are strong and powerful; therefore, the wounds they inflict can crush or tear muscles and skin. If a bite penetrates through the chest wall it may cause a lung to collapse. Further, bites that penetrate the abdominal wall can cause serious or even fatal damage to intestinal organs.
Often bite wounds are inflicted around the head and neck. Vital structures in the neck that could easily be injured include blood vessels (i.e. carotid arteries, jugular veins), numerous nerves, the esophagus and the trachea. Wounds on the head and face can cause severe damage to the eyes, ears and mouth. Wounds around the eyes are particularly dangerous.
Very commonly bite wounds are inflicted on the legs. With leg wounds, there is a risk that injury can involve the joints.
All bite wounds are considered contaminated and/or infected. Because a dog's mouth is full of bacteria, any bite that punctures the skin will introduce bacteria or other infectious organisms below the skin's surface. If left untreated, the bacteria can multiply and spread throughout the underlying tissue. This will eventually cause a localized abscess or more generalized tissue infection (cellulitis) that spreads to the surrounding area. In rare cases, a penetrating bite wound can cause infection of the joint (septic arthritis), pus in the abdominal cavity (septic peritonitis), pus in the chest cavity (pyothorax), or infection of the bone (osteomyelitis).
Veterinary Examination Required
If a dog has been involved in a fight, it can sometimes be challenging to determine the extent of the injuries, particularly if the wounds are located in areas of the body with thick fur. Small puncture wounds from canine teeth can close over rapidly and easily be missed. Further, wounds that appear to be minor on the surface can be deceptive and may have the potential to be serious or even life threatening, depending on the location of the injury. Therefore, if your dog has been in a fight with another animal, you should take him or her to your veterinarian for examination as soon as possible. If you observe obvious wounds, seek veterinary attention immediately.
Symptoms indicating immediate emergency treatment is required include, bleeding that can't be stopped, heavy bleeding, difficulty breathing, weakness, whining or crying, limping, pale or blue gums, and/or collapse.
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Outside regular hours, contact one of the emergency hospitals listed on our Emergencies page. Click on this link to find the listings for emergency services: Emergencies
Depending on the extent of the injuries, your dog's general health, and the location of the wound(s), your veterinarian will determine what type of treatment is necessary. One goal of treatment is to reduce the severity of any infection that develops. Therefore, the wound(s) will be thoroughly cleaned, removing any severely damaged or dead tissue, and surgically closing the wounds whenever possible.
Wounds that are treated within 6 hours of the injury have the best chance of healing without complications. The sooner antibiotics are begun after a bite injury, the quicker any infection will be controlled. Antibiotics will be prescribed for all penetrating wounds. For minor injuries, or for wounds that must be left open to heal, your veterinarian may prescribe a topical antibiotic. If there is any doubt about skin penetration, your veterinarian will prescribe a broad spectrum antibiotic to lessen the chances that a serious infection will develop.
Experts recommend that bacterial culture and sensitivity tests should be performed to determine which bacteria are involved and the best antibiotic to treat these bacteria. However, it takes a couple of days for the test results to be ready; therefore, your veterinarian may not perform these tests unless your pet's wounds do not respond appropriately to initial blood spectrum antibiotic treatment.
Most bite wounds are painful; therefore your dog will likely be given pain medication and/or a sedative or anesthetic, if necessary, before attempting to assess the extent of the injuries. Next, your veterinarian will shave off the fur surrounding the wound(s) to lessen the potential for further contamination. Then, the doctor will flush the wounds to remove any debris and contaminants. If your dog's wounds are in sensitive areas such as near the ears, eyes, or mouth, or if the wounds are extensive and/or severely contaminated, it will be necessary to put your dog under general anesthesia in order to safely clean and treat the areas.
Small puncture wounds are usually left open so that the infection can drain out. Most lacerations will be "debrided" (any compromised or infected skin tissue will be cut away and the edges of the laceration will be trimmed). In many cases, skin wounds will be enlarged to allow the underlying tissue to be thoroughly examined and cleaned.Lacerations will be sutured up. If the damage is extensive, or if there is a chance that fluid will build up in the area surrounding the sutures, temporary drains may be placed.
If you have been instructed to clean the wounds, be very careful since these wounds may be painful and your dog may bite out of pain or fear. Even if your dog is gentle, it is usually advisable to use a muzzle on your dog. If your dog's wounds have been closed with sutures, you will need to keep the area clean and dry. If the wound has been left open to heal, or if a drain was placed in the wound, you will need to clean away any draining material on a regular basis. You can use a soft washcloth or cotton balls and warm water to gently remove debris. In some cases, your veterinarian will prescribe a mild disinfectant cleanser to assist in keeping the area clean.
Use only products recommended by your veterinarian. DO NOT use soaps or any other cleansers or medications unless your veterinarian has instructed you to use those products. Never use hydrogen peroxide to clean a bite wound unless specifically instructed to do so by your veterinarian, since this will delay healing and can worsen the problem.
If you have any concerns or questions about your dog's health or care, please contact us (480) 893-0533.
This information is not a replacement for a veterinary consultation. Please make an appointment to see your veterinarian if your dog has been in a fight or come in immediately if you observe any of the emergency symptoms discussed in this article.
For emergency information please click on this link: Emergencies