Ouch…The Dog BIT ME!
Most of my life I’ve had a pet dog, including now, with my ten-year-old sweet-tempered Pekinese named Fluffy. While she loves to chase her toys and get her tummy rubbed, not all interactions with dogs end up with love and petting. Dogs are bred to protect, and when Fluffy perceives a threat, she’s been known to respond by biting.
According to the CDC, about four-and-a-half-million Americans suffer dog bites each year, with half of them being children between the ages of five and nine. Of these, most are minor with little skin penetration, but about a million (about one out of five) require medical attention. Although a stray dog might be a biter, most of the time people are bitten by a dog they know. It’s usually a family pet.
Some breeds are more likely to bite humans. Nearly a quarter of all dog bites are caused by pitbulls, followed by German shepherds at about one-sixth. Although very uncommon, it is possible for a dog bite to be fatal, with about 40 people a year in the U.S. succumbing as a result.
As usual, prevention is better than cure. When choosing a dog for a family pet, pick one with a good temperament. Young children, especially toddlers, may not realize that pulling on a dog’s tail may cause a bad response; be sure and supervise the young ’uns when they’re around pets. When approaching a dog, be wary about sticking your hand out until you’re sure it won’t be bitten. Keep in mind that feeding and nursing are the most sensitive times for dogs.
If your child does sustain a dog bite, wash out the wound promptly; tap water is fine. If there’s minimal blood, that is, if the bite didn’t penetrate the skin, then home first aid such as antibiotic cream and a bandage may be adequate.
Deep penetrating bites and long skin tears are the most dangerous. If the bite is deep, it’s best to have your medical provider do a thorough examination. Sutures may or may not be used in these injuries.
Most of the time, dog bites are treated with preventative antibiotics. About 10-percent of dog bite wounds become infected. This, fortunately, can usually be cured quickly with antibiotics. Occasionally, however, these infections can spread and cause serious problems, especially if they get into the heart or brain.
One of the most feared infections that can occur from a dog bite is rabies. In America most rabies infections come from bats, but about five percent are from dogs, usually strays. Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any known infection, at about 99.9-percent! If the dog that caused the bite can be found, it can either be kept in quarantine for ten days, or, if already deceased, its brain tissue can be examined for the rabies virus. Dogs will show symptoms within ten days, so if the dog is fine after that time, there will be no need for rabies shots. Although rabies treatments for humans have improved over the past several decades, they still require a series of painful injections. A tetanus shot may be needed as well.
Dogs make wonderful companions, providing comfort and security to adults and children alike. However, even the friendliest dog may bite when feeling threatened, or even just while engaged over-vigorous playing. To prevent complications, when dog bite wounds are deep, they should be treated properly by a medical professional.
Philip L. Levin, MD is a Coast-based physician and writer. He is the author of numerous award-winning stories and poems, many nonfiction articles, and eight published books, including two children’s books.