BITE WOUNDS – The tip of the iceberg…..
by Dr Marissa Slabber
Why do we talk about the “tip of the iceberg” injuries?? Let’s define “Tip of the Iceberg” : Under normal circumstances only 10% or less of an iceberg floating in the ocean, is visible above the seawater. For the most part, the bulk of the solid triangular mass lies below the water level, or ‘hidden from normal sight’. How does this tie in with bite wound injuries in dogs?
Very often when dogs have fights, be it serious or not, the physics and the normal psychology of a dog means that it bites, grips and shakes the opponent or other dog. So if you think about the physics about it, there may only be a small hole visible on the surface of the skin, but in actual fact, 90% of the injury lies below the surface of the skin. The injury occurs initially whereby:
- Subcutaneous tissue, fat or muscle is significantly cut, crushed or bruised, which may affect blood supply to the tissue (teeth are normally blunt, therefore small bite wounds normally tear blood vessels, hence the minimal “visible” bleeding)
- The subcutaneous tissue is impregnated/contaminated with surface hair, and bacteria from the teeth and saliva that penetrate the skin
- Small holes in the skin heals or scabs over within 12 hours or less.
- This necrotizing tissue at body temperature is the perfect “food” for bacteria to multiply
This injury is not always obvious or visible initially, unless you shave the hair completely away from the edges of the wound. Only by blunt exploration of the wound will the extent of the injury become visible. This combination of necrotising tissue and bacteria is then the perfect recipe for a subcutaneous abscess to form, hence the swelling that owners may notice 12 to 48 hours later, after the fight. To treat the small, hopefully draining, injury with antiseptic liquid or ointment, would not really help the underlying hidden problem.
What should a responsible owner do in the event of a dog fight:
- Always be responsible for your own dog’s actions and controllability where it comes to other places, animals and people.
- Make sure your dog’s vaccinations are up to date, as some diseases can be transmitted by bite wounds
- Be very careful if you have to intervene in a dog fight, your own safety is the most important thing.
- During dog fights your own dog, or a normally placid animal may become aggressive and bite you due to pack mentality and of course adrenalin combined with a heightened sense of defence or prey drive
- Be cautious even after the dogs stopped fighting, they may also bite you due to reasons of pain and adrenaline driven sense of protection/ being insecure
- In the event of a serious injury, where bright red “arterial” blood is pulsing from your dog, get a towel or any piece of cloth to try and stop the bleeding with pressure, but the most important thing is to get to your vet ASAP.
- If injuries are small puncture wounds, as the topic discussed above, go home and clean your dog from excess dirt, or leaves etc. Very often a bath is best. Look at and palpate your dog from top to toe.
- Cut or shave all hair away from all puncture wounds, and look for residual hair that may actually be stuck into the wound.
- Any wound that is close to a joint structure, and that causes serious pain without excessive trauma, should be treated as a medical emergency. Penetration wounds to joints or nerves can be very serious
- Please do not give any medication to your dog, if you have not spoken to your vet first. Certain medicines are contraindicated in animals, even if you think you are giving an under dose, the amount could still be toxic to your dog, and may prevent your vet from treating your dog properly.