As a veterinarian, I must say that dog bites are not one of my favorite things. Whether a dog bites someone else or is bitten by another dog – these cases are always serious and complicated. Recently, I was involved with two cases at our clinic that prompted me to chew on the protocols surrounding these incidents. From pain and wound management to rabies risk and exposure, there is always more to these cases than meets the eye.
A few weeks back, I examined a beautiful 7 year old Shiba Inu dog with a swelling on her right shoulder. Her mom told us that she played with some dogs the previous week and one of them had gotten a little rough. At the time, the owner was unable to locate any obvious wounds under her thick hair coat. Five days later, however, a painful swelling developed at the site. On her physical exam, multiple puncture wounds were noted with a localized pocket of infection under the skin. The patient needed anesthesia to drain the abscess, remove the diseased tissue and place an indwelling drain to allow the infection to heal. To add insult to injury, by law, this sweet dog needed to be quarantined by her owner for 45 days since the vaccination status of the biting dog was not known. Thank goodness she was up to date on her vaccinations or else her quarantine period would increase to 6 months!
In a second case, a 10 year old dog bit a person on the ankle as they entered her building. Though the wound inflicted by the dog was relatively mild, it still broke the skin. Unfortunately, this dog was just a month overdue for her rabies vaccination. As a result, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources was notified and a 10 day period of strict quarantine was enforced before the rabies vaccination could be boostered.
Both of these cases were stressful for the dogs and their owners. In the first case, the owner was beside herself when she saw the damage inflicted by the bite wound. More often than not, bite wounds look benign initially but morph into something more serious over time. In the second incident, the owner was very upset to discover his dog was overdue for her rabies vaccination. The paperwork and protocols outlines by Department of Public Health were time consuming and frustrating.
Though the incidence for rabies transmission from dogs is very low in this country, the risk is still present and the disease is fatal. For this reason, in any dog bite situation, we err on the side of caution. Many people do not realize that veterinarians are obligated, by law, to administer a rabies vaccination to any animal that is due for the vaccine and healthy enough to receive it. We are also obligated to report any and all bite wounds to the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture. In both human and veterinary medicine, there is much discussion about the possible negative effects of vaccinations. At Back Bay Veterinary Clinic, we agree that vaccinations can put stress on the body’s immune system and we take vaccinations very seriously. But, we also believe that the benefits, in most cases, far outweigh the risks.
1 Make sure your pet is current on his/her rabies vaccination. Ideally, it is best that your pet wear the beautiful jewelry (aka. “rabies tag”) that your veterinarian gives you at the time of the vaccination. At Back Bay Vet, we now offer Petly Identification Cards that list the vaccination status of your pet. These convenient cards fit in your wallet or key chain and also display a cute picture of your pet!
2 If your pet is bitten by another animal, contact your local animal control officer. Also, be sure to get information on the rabies status of the biting dog. It is best to exchange phone numbers and veterinary information to ease communication between both parties.
3 Have any and all bite wounds examined by your veterinarian. Even wounds that appear superficial can turn into something more serious over time. Early treatment of bite wounds can minimize the need for more invasive treatments.
4 Protect your pet. Thought some bite wounds can’t be avoided, many of them can. Not every dog enjoys playing at the dog park with other dogs. For some, group play can be stressful and can push them into more aggressive behavior. Also, if you know you pet has aggression issues, set up an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss the problem and seek attainable solutions.
Dog bites will continue to happen. It is important to remember that a biting dog is not necessarily a “bad” dog – the entire situation needs to be evaluated. We all need to do our part to protect ourselves and our beloved pets.