Veterinarian Tips To Avoid Dog Bites

Having an animal attack you, your pet, or your family members is one of the scariest experiences a person can endure.

Dog bites aren’t traumatic events that happen to “other people.” Any person or pet can be at risk of suffering irreversible injury or even death at the hands of an animal, even a beloved companion canine.

Having a clinical veterinary practice since 1999, I’ve treated my fair share of dog bites over the years.  Commonly, the dogs involved in the fight are not the only ones that incur bodily trauma from the event. Owners, caretakers, and others attempting to break up the fight can also be bitten.

According to the AVMA Dog Bite Prevention webpage:

  • Each year, more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs.
  • Almost 1 in 5 people bitten by dogs require medical attention.
  • Every year, more than 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites; at least half of them are children.
  • Children are, by far, the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured.
  • Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.
  • Senior citizens are the second most common dog bite victims.

Prevention is the best medicine for dog bites, which is why I want to focus on measures to keep both pets and humans safe during National Dog Bite Prevention Week (May 17-23, 2015).

Promote Proper Socialization and Training

Get your dog used to the being around other canines and humans by promoting consistent and positive socialization.  Whether you’re teaching a puppy or acclimating an adult rescue pooch to your household and lifestyle, focus on training from a positive perspective as soon as you take on the care-taking responsibilities.

Teaching basic commands like “sit”, “stay”, “drop”, “leave it”, “come”, and others strengthens the canine-human bond and increases the likelihood your pooch will respond favorably to interactions with other people.

If you are new to the training process, aren’t confident with your technique, or if your message isn’t coming across as authoritative, then seek guidance from a trainer, veterinarian, or veterinary behavior specialist (via the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists website).

Use a Flat Leash to Appropriately Guide Your Dog in Public

Always keep your dog on a short leash in public spaces.  Avoid using an extendable lead, which doesn’t permit the same degree of control as a non-extending leash allowing your dog’s movement only in a limited area.

A flat lead of 6 feet or less should be used to restrict movement, as dogs having too much freedom (even on-leash) are more prone to trauma and having negative interactions with other animals.  Always be in control of your dog’s movements and serve as the leader who directs access through doors, guides the way across the street (after releasing from a “sit, stay”), and determines the designated locations for elimination (urination and defecation).

Be Wary of Potential Canine Foes

There are many instances when your companion canine may meet a new dog, such as at the park, daycare, or out on walks in your neighborhood.  Minimizing new interactions can reduce the likelihood a bite, scratch, or other trauma will occur.

Interfacing with unfamiliar dogs, cats, or other animals not only increases the potential for trauma, but viral (Distemper, Parvovirus, etc.) and bacterial (Bordetella, etc.) diseases affecting the eyes, mouth, nose, and other respiratory tract can potentially transmit from face to face contact.  Additionally, sniffing or licking on or around the anus of another dog can transmit parasites (Giardia, Whipworm, etc.) or pathogenic bacteria (E.coli, Salmonella, etc.) via “fecal-oral transmission.”

Avoid Potentially Stressful and Harmful Locations

With socially-challenged canines, consider skipping the park and other places dogs congregate.  At such spots, canine stress levels are high and good behaviors are often disregarded for more primordial patterns of uncertainty, aggression, and fear.  Additionally, there’s a seemingly reduced capacity to pay attention to an owner’s commands.

Brief and seemingly safe interactions between two dogs can go quickly go awry.  Over a few moments, what started as a friendly meeting can escalate into a blood-shedding fight.

Recognize the Financial Burden of Bite Wound Treatment

You may be thinking “my dog is perfect and would never get into a fight with another animal.”  I’ve heard my clients say such things while seeking treatment for a bite wound their pooch received or when opening their wallets to pay for the care of the trauma their dog inflicted.

The average cost associated with treating a dog bite on an emergency basis varies from hundreds to thousands of dollars and is relative to the amount of damage received or inflicted. The more serious the dog bite, the more expensive the veterinary bill.

The degree of injury sustained from a dog bite typically isn’t fully visible at the surface of the skin.  It is often necessary to provide sedation or anesthesia, open up the bite wound, assess and repair the tissue trauma underneath the skin’s surface, then surgically close the site with a drain (which permit drainage of bodily fluids that collect as a result of bite-related trauma).

Be a smart and proactive owner.  Always take preventative measures to ensure that your pooch will not be the instigator or recipient of a dog bite.

Meet the Author: Patrick Mahaney

Dr. Patrick Mahaney VMD, CVA, CVJ is a veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist providing services to Los Angeles-based clients both on a house call and in-clinic basis. Dr. Mahaney’s unique approach integrating eastern and western medical perspectives has evolved into a concierge house call practice, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW), Inc. Additionally, Dr. Mahaney offers holistic treatment for canine and feline cancer patients at the Veterinary Cancer Group (Culver City, CA).

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