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How Bad Is a Bite? Well, It Depends

posted Sep 12, 2011, 10:12 AM by Unknown user   [ updated Sep 12, 2011, 10:28 AM ]
[cross-posted from Dr. Jon's newsletter]

Bite wounds are an emergency that vets see quite often.  Recently we treated Barney, an affectionate mixed-breed dog, for some serious bite wounds.

Bite wounds can be deceiving.  On the surface, it can look like the damage is superficial - and often, it is.  But below the surface, it's what you can't see that can be serious and even life threatening.

What may look like only a small puncture wound in the skin can often be much more.  Once the tooth penetrates the skin, severe damage can occur to the underlying tissues and vessels without major skin damage.

In Barney's case, he and his owner, Arlene, were enjoying a nice stroll through the park when another dog owner approached from the opposite direction with his German shepherd.  Suddenly, the Shepherd took off after Barney, pulling the leash right out of his owner's hand.  The dog attacked Barney, and before the Shepherd's owner could get him under control, Barney had several bite wounds on his neck.

Arlene was frantic.  She examined Barney and was relieved that his bite wounds didn't look that bad.  She took him home and carefully cleaned his wounds.  "It's probably fine," she thought, "but I'm going to take him to the clinic anyway, just to make sure."

Good thing she did. 

What Arlene couldn't see was that the Shepherd's bite had actually punctured a blood vessel in Barney's neck.  If she hadn't brought Barney in for treatment, she would have lost him. 

Barney had emergency surgery to repair the damage and he was just fine. 

He was lucky that Arlene brought him in when she did.  Like many dog owners, she thought the wound was OK.  She questioned whether or not he needed emergency care, and then she decided to play it safe and seek treatment.  Arlene told the vet tech that she had been "on the fence" about bringing Barney in for an examination.  When he asked her what had changed her mind, she told him, "I have pet insurance.  Even if he wasn't badly injured, I knew that the visit would be covered.  And if it was worse than I thought, it was better to be safe than sorry.  I know that, either way, Barney's treatment would be covered - so why take chances?  I wanted to be sure he was alright."

That was a very smart decision.  For successful resolution of bite wounds, the dog has only a 12-hour window for treatment.  After that, the chance of complications greatly increases and the dog's chance for survival decreases.

Here's the bottom line.  All bite wounds should receive veterinary attention. 

Bite wounds must be carefully cleaned to kill bacteria.  They are also very painful and the injured dog will require pain medications.  Some wounds may appear deceptively minor but under the skin, there can be life-threatening damage.  Bite wounds to the neck can cause excessive bleeding when a major blood vessel is torn.  There can be nerve damage, airway trauma and trauma to the dog's esophagus.  Signs of underlying damage include:

 • Bleeding
 • Swelling
 • Drainage
 • Breathing difficulty
 • Limping
 • Weakness
 • Collapse

Attacks like this can happen in a split second - and often, with no apparent provocation or cause.  If your dog is ever attacked, please seek treatment immediately.

Until next time,

Dr. Jon

P.S.  We never think about something like this happening to our dog - but it does.  Arlene never imagined that Barney would be brutally attacked when they went to the park that day.  But things happen.  And it can happen to you, too.  If it does, I hope that you are financially prepared, as Arlene was, so that money will not stand in the way of your dog's life-saving treatment. Without pet insurance, Barney's story could have ended quite differently. 

P.P.S.  If it would be difficult for you to come up with hundreds or thousands of dollars for your dog's emergency care, pet insurance is a great solution.  A good comprehensive policy can be the difference between life and death in an emergency situation like this.  It can also cover ongoing illnesses, well care, even vaccinations. And all of this protection starts at less than a dollar a day!  So please, make sure your dog gets the protection he needs.  Take a minute now to get a free pet insurance quote.