Hidden Dangers of Canine Bite Wounds – What Lies Beneath – By: Dr. Eugenie Bucher
Hidden Dangers of Canine Bite Wounds – What Lies Beneath – By: Dr. Eugenie BucherDate: July 1, 2016
Canine bite wounds are one of the most common injuries seen in the veterinary emergency room. Whether it is a “spat” between housemates or an attack by an unknown dog, these wounds are to be taken seriously and immediate veterinary care pursued.
Depending on the circumstances, many canine bite wound victims can be treated on an outpatient basis and the outcome usually good. The danger lies in assuming the previous statement applies without seeking a professional evaluation.
All wounds need to be evaluated by a veterinarian so an appropriate treatment plan can be formulated. These wounds can be deceiving. You may see a few punctures in the skin and think “whew, that doesn’t look too bad”, but underneath the skin is where there may be extensive damage to the muscles and other soft tissues. Especially bites of the head, neck or thorax as these can be life threatening.
There are times when the skin is bruised and indentations from the teeth are seen on the skin with no puncture through the skin. These can be the most devastating wounds because the canine teeth of the biting dog and the crushing nature of the jaws, have caused severe damage to internal organs.
Bite wounds of the head that penetrate the skull can cause coma or death.
Bites of the neck can damage the spinal cord causing nerve damage that affects breathing due to injury of the nerves that supply the respiration muscles the resulting in hypoventilation. Another result can be paralysis. Bites to the thoracic or lumbar spine can also cause paralysis
These scenarios are more common when a large dog bites a small dog and when there is picking up and shaking involved. Small punctures into the chest can cause a pneumothorax which is abnormal air in the chest cavity which doesn’t allow the lung to expand. Lacerations of the major blood vessels of the heart or lungs can cause severe hemorrhage and death. Crushing injuries to the trachea and larynx can cause suffocation.
All this damage is from the forces generated by the action of the bite and the type or shape of the teeth and are called compressive and tensile forces.
Compressive forces can cause punctures, crushing damage or both depending on the type of tooth/teeth involved. The premolar and molars cause compressive forces resulting in crushing injuries including fractures of the skull, ribs and extremities.
Tensile forces cause avulsion injuries. This is when the skin is pulled away from subcutaneous tissues. Subcutaneous tissues are pulled away from the muscles and the muscles pulled apart from bone.
When your veterinarian examines and evaluates these injuries, the treatment plan may involve hospitalization to treat any shock with IV fluids, antibiotics, pain management and the wound care itself. Sometimes this can require extensive surgery. Wound healing will not improve until any necrotic or infected tissue is removed. If there is penetration into a body cavity, exploratory surgery would be required.
Two instances come to mind: one where one of the kidneys was avulsed and free floating in the abdomen. The other was where the small bowel was damaged so badly. 6 inches of it had to be removed. In the previous 2 examples, there were no large lacerations or punctures in the skin.
These injuries were definitively diagnosed during exploratory surgery.
This can be hard to take if you bring in your beloved friend with some bite wounds and you’re expecting some wound care of clip and clean and possibly a couple stitches and then you’re told your pet needs surgery, possible transfusions and a hospital stay of several if not more days.
This can be emotionally draining and a financial burden but postponing treatment is the worst thing to do. Research shows the longer the time before proper treatment is begun, the higher the risk of infection and complications. Even when wounds are treated immediately, there is always the chance that all damaged tissue isn’t revealed right away. It can declare itself days later and additional surgery then becomes necessary.
The best thing for you to do is avoid situations where your pet could get into a fight or get attacked. Be smart and conscientious. Always be aware when you are walking your pet. Don’t be engrossed on your cell phone not paying attention to the 3 loose dogs running your way. Avoid the neighbor where the big black dog always gets out the door and charges anyone walking down the street. Don’t let your pet engage with unknown pets at the beach or dog park unsupervised. It’s all fun and cute when 5 or 6 dogs that never met are running around, jumping at each other, smelling each other until suddenly one takes offense ant a fight ensues. Don’t allow your little dog to bark and bark and carry on running up to an unknown dog especially a larger one. Use care in your own home when new treats or toys are introduced. Even best friends can fight and it can escalate quickly. This is not to say your pet should be antisocial to be safe. They should always be social and be able to go anywhere with you and be safe.
You want to have a long, safe fun- filled life with your best friend. A little training and a little common sense goes a long way.
Enjoy the Summer!