Sep 06 2011

Bite injuries and your pet

Spring is here and with it comes the desire to spend more time outdoors. This increased outdoor activity means that your pet runs an increased risk of getting into a fight with another animal, especially if he or she ventures outside unsupervised.

The majority of bite wound victims are small dogs in general, young intact male dogs of any breed, and adult male cats. In these animals, the reasons for fighting vary, but are often related to territorial aggression.

Bite wounds are most commonly inflicted around the neck, head, shoulders and legs; although in more intense fights wounds can occur in the chest and abdomen. Because of their furry coats, the extent of an animal’s bite wound injuries are not always obvious – think of the typical iceberg, which is submerged so that only about 10% of its mass is visible above the water.

In a similar way, the initial puncture wounds from a bite are small and often close over quickly so that they are almost invisible beneath the fur; however, if you were able to see under the surface, you would find significant tissue trauma that has been camouflaged by an apparently minor skin injury. All bite wounds are contaminated with bacteria that originate from 3 sources – the attacker’s mouth, the victim’s skin, and the environment.

The canine teeth of dogs, cats, and many of the wild predators are sharp and curved, designed to puncture through the skin; as the tooth punctures the skin, bacteria are driven deep into the wound tract where they can set up a serious infection.

If the attacker gets a good hold on the victim, its premolar and molar teeth, located along the sides of the jaws, will inflict crushing injuries to the skin and underlying muscles; if the attacker shakes its victim, even more damage to the deep tissues will occur, often without obvious skin lacerations. Any damaged tissue will become inflamed and will be more prone to infection; if the damage is severe, the tissues will become necrotic (die).

Even more serious than a bacterial infection is the potential for a rabies infection, which is transmitted through the saliva of infected animals, particularly wildlife. This threat is one of the reasons why you should always keep your pet up-to-date on rabies inoculations.

If you are aware that your pet has been in a fight, regardless of how minor you think the injuries may be, you should take your pet to your veterinarian immediately for an examination.

Early intervention will minimize the severity of any potential infection and in some cases (for example if there is a penetrating wound to the chest or abdomen) may save your pet’s life. In order to assess the extent of the injuries, your veterinarian may need to take x-rays or use other diagnostic tools such as endoscopy.

If your cat was bitten by another cat, your veterinarian will recommend viral testing for feline leukemia and feline immunosuppressive virus 60 days after the injury occurred, since these viral infections are commonly transmitted through saliva.

If your pet ventures outdoors unsupervised, you may not even be aware that it has been in a fight until the wound becomes infected and begins to ooze pus (a localized infection), or your pet becomes lethargic due to pain and/or fever due to septicemia (a generalized infection).

If there are signs of septicemia, your pet may require hospitalization for intensive treatment. If the infection is localized, an abscess may develop at the site of the injury, especially in cats. In virtually all cases of local infection, treatment will involve a surgical exploration to remove any infected or necrotic tissue.

Depending on the degree of infection, your veterinarian may put one or more surgical drains into the surgical site. In some cases, a portion of the wound will be left open to allow drainage of infected material from the site. If an infected wound does not begin to improve after this treatment, more aggressive treatment may be needed to resolve the problem.

Because it heralds the start of breeding season in the wild, spring weather often means an increase in the frequency and intensity of fights in dogs, cats, and other small predatory animals. The best prevention is to keep your pet supervised and on leash at all times while outdoors.

If your pet does accidentally get into a fight with another animal, don’t delay in seeking veterinary care. It could mean the difference between a relatively minor procedure and an extensive and expensive hospital stay.

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Caution: These news items, written by Lifelearn Inc., are licensed to this practice for the personal use of our clients. Any copying, printing or further distribution is prohibited without the express written permission of Lifelearn Inc. Please note that the news information presented here is NOT a substitute for a proper consultation and/or clinical examination of your pet by our clinic veterinarian.

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