Pets with Bite Wounds: Why the Rush?

Dr. Laci Schaible

Bite Wounds on Pets

Assessing whether a wound warrants an urgent veterinary visit is one of the challenges every pet parent faces. If you find yourself in a situation where another animal bites your pet, don’t be tempted to see if your pet will heal on his own, even for seemingly minor bite wounds. While some simple skin scrapes will heal on their own, bite wounds require immediate veterinary care.

The Nitty Gritty

Ever hear that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s? This is not true. A dog’s mouth is besieged by legions of germs and disease-causing bacteria. When a bite wound occurs and breaks the integrity of the skin, pathogens from the mouth are immediately at work, causing infection that will progress if left untreated.

Animal teeth can quickly create hidden damage to the tissue layers beneath your pet’s skin, yet only leave a small hole on the skin’s surface. Your veterinarian will explore them surgically. Veterinarians can evaluate how deep the wound extends and check whether there is internal damage to organs or tissues. If an animal has been involved in a fight, it can sometimes be challenging to determine the extent of the injuries, particularly if the wounds are located in heavily furred areas. Small puncture wounds from sharp teeth can easily be missed, which is why the veterinary team may need to clip fur.

Time Is Golden

For all wounds requiring surgical repair of the skin or stitches, there is a period known by veterinarians as the “golden period” to surgically correct the wound to give your pet the best chance of healing without complications and with the greatest ease. This “golden period” only lasts six hours or less. If a pet is treated within six hours, the wounds have the best chance of healing without complication.

Treatment

The main goal of treatment will be to reduce the severity of the infection, but this can be accomplished in many ways.

  • Your veterinarian will shave the fur, clean the wounds, remove dead or heavily damaged tissue, and surgically close the wounds when appropriate.
  • Sutures may be placed. Alternatively, some wounds may be left often to heal or drain with a tube. Your veterinarian will determine this.
  • Antibiotics (possibly oral and topical) will be prescribed. The sooner your pet is started on antibiotics, the better.
  • Pain meds and/or anesthesia may be necessary.
  • A bacterial culture and sensitivity test may be recommended to determined which bacteria are involved and the best antibiotics to target the specific bacteria.

Wounds That Won’t Wait

While all bite wounds should be evaluated by your veterinarian, some are true medical emergencies. These include cases where bleeding can’t be stopped or the pet has difficulty breathing, weakness, pale or purple-blue gums, or collapse.

Have all bite wounds and injuries evaluated ASAP to improve your pet’s prognosis, decrease the extent of diagnostics and treatments required, and shorten the amount of time before your pet returns to full health. Remember, a bite wound that is ignored is already an infected wound.

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