Friday, August 28, 2015

Dog Vs. Dog -- Canine Bite Wounds

Even play time can get out of hand. Remember, play time should
be bouncy and loose. If any of the dogs playing becomes
stiff/rigid, you should intervene before a fight begins.
As an emergency veterinarian I see bite wounds in dogs almost on a daily basis. The severity of these wounds can vary from just small lacerations to serious life threatening injuries. Frequently they involve a larger dog biting a smaller dog and/or multiple dogs attacking another dog. The scenarios where bite wounds occur are a myriad, but frequently occur at dog parks or other areas where people bring their pets to walk or run off leash. They can occur while out walking your dog on the street or even in your own yard. They can also occur among your own dogs. What is important is to know what to do in case your pet is bitten by another dog. There are many factors that affect what the best course of action is, but having your pet examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible after the bite is probably the most important.

If dogs are currently fighting do not try and grab or otherwise touch the fighting dogs as this can escalate things and you may be bitten as well. You can try to distract them with a loud noise such as banging pots or garbage can lids together, spraying with a hose, or try to get in between them by opening a large umbrella or folding chair. Once the fight is over, assess the dog(s) and begin first aid.

If the dog is small, it may be best to wrap them up in a towel or use a muzzle to safely restrain them as to prevent them from biting you; when an animal is in pain, they are more likely to bite in response to being touched. If you do not have a muzzle, one may be fastened with some gauze--a leash could work for a larger dog. If there are any bleeding wounds, direct pressure on the wound is the best to stop the bleeding. Avoid the urge to put anything on or in the wound as most over the counter topical medications such as hydrogen peroxide are not meant to go in open wounds and can cause more harm than good.

Remember, what is on the surface is not the entire
injury. Most often, bite wounds are worse than they
appear from the bacteria and crushing force of the bite.
As stated earlier, the best thing to do is to get your dog to your regular veterinarian or veterinary emergency facility as soon as possible. After your dog has been examined, in many cases, wound exploration under sedation or general anesthesia will be recommended by your veterinarian. I am often asked why we are unable to just clean the wound and put some sutures in it. The answer is that what you see on the surface is just the "tip of the iceberg". Bite wounds, by nature, cause crushing injury to the skin and tissue below. They carry hair, debris, skin bacteria, and bacteria from the biting dog's mouth--embedding them into the tissue. These wounds need to be surgically explored to remove damaged and contaminated tissue and flushed with sterile saline to remove bacteria and debris. Many of these bites will cause large pockets under the skin and may need to have drains placed to prevent fluid accumulation after the wound is closed. Antibiotics and pain medications will likely be prescribed and follow up exams will be rquired to remove drains, monitor healing and remove sutures or staples. Some wounds may dehisce (break down) because some crushing injuries damage the blood supply to the skin and this may not be apparent at the time of the initial injury. Repeated surgery and/or open wound management and skin grafts may be required for more severe wounds.

In summary, bite wounds in dogs are one of the more common injuries seen in veterinary practice. They can happen in almost any scenario imagined, have a wide range of severity and often need to be surgically explored to asses/treat the damaged tissue under the skin. Examination by a veterinarian is recommended in almost every case and frequent follow up to monitor healing.

Written by Joseph Wilder, DVM, DABVP