Bite wounds are one of the most common reasons why dogs end up at the emergency vet clinic. Your dog may have gotten into a scuffle with another dog at the dog park, felt the wrath of the neighborhood cat, or had a close encounter with a wild animal. While many bite wounds appear to be small, they can end up spelling big trouble for your dog if left untreated.
Why Are Bite Wounds So Bad?
Bite wounds are puncture wounds, which means that while the outward appearance of the wound may be small, it likely extends deep into your pet’s skin. When the opening of the wound heals over (sometimes very quickly), bacteria from the animal’s mouth that bit your pet can get trapped deep inside, leading to infection and, in some cases, an abscess.
What to Do if Your Dog Is Bitten
#1 Get your dog away from the other animal as soon as it is safe to do so.
It’s not safe for a human to insert themselves into the middle of a dog fight, so be cautious. If the owner of the biting animal is around, ask them if their pet has been vaccinated against rabies (this will be useful information for your veterinarian to know). You may also want to exchange contact information with the other owner in case you need to follow up.
#2 Control the bleeding.
If the bite wound is bleeding a lot (often the case with bites to the ear or face), apply pressure to the wound with a clean towel or other piece of clean fabric. Try not to panic; if your dog sees that you are upset it may cause their blood pressure to rise, which can result in increased bleeding.
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#3 Head to the veterinarian.
While you might think your dog’s bite wound looks minor, the only person who can properly evaluate the situation is your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will look to see how deep the wound is, how much of your dog’s body area is involved, and recommended treatment.
#4 Treat the wound.
The treatment that your veterinarian recommends will depend on the extent of the injury. In most cases, the area around the wound will be shaved, the wound will be cleaned, and a decision will be made about whether to leave the wound open or seal it up. In the case of a small wound, the veterinarian may determine that leaving it open to drain is the best course of action. Larger or deeper cuts may be sutured up or stapled, and a drain may be placed in cases where damage is extensive or there is a chance of fluid buildup.
In most cases, your veterinarian will prescribe an oral antibiotic to ward off infection, and for minor injuries that are left open to heal, a topical antibiotic may also be prescribed.
Depending on the location of your dog’s bite wound, they may have to wear an Elizabethan collar or “cone” to keep them from licking or further damaging the injury site while it heals.
Follow your veterinarian’s instructions explicitly when it comes to home care of the wound. In some cases you may need to clean it or apply ointment, but you should only do so with products recommended by your veterinarian. Do not attempt to treat a wound with Neosporin or hydrogen peroxide without first consulting your veterinarian, as these products may actually hinder the healing process.
After several days, you and your dog may return to your veterinarian for a follow-up examination.
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How to Prevent Bite Wounds
While there is no way to control the behavior of other animals, there are steps you can take to reduce the chances of your dog being bitten:
- Well-mannered dogs are less likely to bite or get bitten, so consider signing up for an obedience class with your pal.
- Keep your dog on a leash while you are out walking, and if they are allowed to roam free in your yard, make sure that the area is enclosed and secure so that they can’t escape and other animals can’t find their way in.
- Be cautious when it comes to other animals. Before letting your dog run free in a dog park, observe the situation and look for signs of tension or aggression. Before letting your dog approach another dog while you’re out on a walk, ask the other owner if it’s safe and okay to do so. The same should go for unfamiliar dogs approaching your dog; either grant or deny the other owner permission first.
Be careful out there. Sometimes, the bite is worse than the bark.
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