Help! My dog has been bitten by another dog, what should I do?

Help! My dog has been bitten by another dog, what should I do?

If your dog is bitten by another dog the wound can look minor, but bite wounds create an ideal environment for bacteria to grow and infections to occur. Today our Somerset area emergency and specialist vets share advice on what you should do if your dog gets bitten by another dog.

Watching For Anxious Pets

When your dog is bitten by another dog, it can feel a bit like it came out of the blue, but as a rule dogs don't tend to bite without sending out some warning signals first. Learning to watch for and understand signs that indicate that another dog is frightened or anxious could help you to prevent your pup from being bitten.

Dogs typically don't go looking for trouble. Most dogs will actually go out of their way to avoid dangerous or aggressive situations. To this end, a dog will give a number of warning signals before biting (even if you don't notice the signs).

Like people, a dog's fear or anxiety in dogs can stem from the current situation, or could be related to past experiences. Which means that, even if you believe that there is nothing happening that could cause a dog to become fearful, your pet or someone else's pup could be feeling extremely anxious.

Signs that a Dog Might Bite

Whenever you are out with your dog for a walk or at the park, try to keep an eye out for signs of anxiety or fear in other dogs. While you will likely notice obvious signals such as growling, snapping, lunging, snarling or baring teeth, a fearful or anxious dog will usually send out more subtle signals first. Some of the earliest signs of a dog that is scared or anxious include licking lips, turning face away, trying to move away, ears flattened and back, yawning or crouching.

If you notice that there is a dog close-by showing any of these signs, take your pet and move away calmly but quickly. It can be helpful to put a physical barrier such as a car or a fence between your dog and the threatening dog as extra protection.

What To Do if Your Dog is Bitten by Another Dog

Even if you stay alert for the early warning signs, unexpected situations can happen. Here are some guidelines for what you should do if your dog is bitten by another dog:

  • Stay calm! We know it can be hard but try not to panic since this could cause your pup to become even more afraid. 
  • Never step between dogs to break up a fight. This could lead to getting bitten yourself. Focus on your dog and getting your pup away from the other dog. (The other owner should be doing the same). A loud clap to distract the dogs may help, then call your dog.
  • Do not shout at the other dog or make eye contact since this could make the dog feel more threatened.
  • Once the immediate danger is over, ask the other dog owner for details such as contact information, whether their pet is up to date on vaccines, and whether they have pet insurance. If the other pet owner is absent or uncooperative try to take pictures.
  • When you and your pup are safely away from the other dog, contact your vet immediately to let them know that you need an urgent appointment, or head to your nearest emergency animal hospital.

Assessing Your Dog's Injuries

There are a number of factors which influence the severity of a dog bite. While it may seem obvious that a large bite that is bleeding profusely requires immediate veterinary care, you may not realize that a small bit can also pose a serious health risk to your pup.

It is always good idea to have a bite wound examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible, even if the wound is small. 

Why It's Important to Take Your Dog to The Vet After a Bite

When your pet receives a bite wound, the other dog's tooth not only creates a small puncture in your pup's skin, it also creates a pocket below the skin which forms an ideal environment for bacteria (from the aggressor's mouth) to multiply and quickly develop into an infection. Even the smallest puncture wound can be a major cause for concern due to the high risk of infection.

One reason that bite wounds are likely to become infected is that the actual hole in the skin is relatively small, so the skin tends to heal itself very quickly. However by healing so quickly, the skin traps the bacteria within the pocket below the skin where it can quickly multiply and turn into an abscess. 

Infection tends to be the primary concern for any dog bite, however there are other serious health issues which can develop from the bite wound depending on the location and severity of the injury:

  • Infection of the bone
  • Infection of the joint
  • Cellulitis (tissue infection)
  • Accumulation of pus in the chest cavity or abdominal cavity

What to Expect When You Visit the Vet

Your vet will examine your pup's bite wound paying particular attention to the depth of the wound as well as the amount of 'dead space' caused by the bite. Dead space is the pocket that is created when the skin is pulled away from the subcutaneous tissue. Generally speaking, the larger the dead space, the higher the risk of infection. During the examination, your vet will also look for signs of other physical injures such as nerve damage, broken bones or bleeding under the skin.

Treatment For Your Dog's Bite Wound

Following a full examination, your dog's wound will be thoroughly cleaned and bandaged if necessary. Your vet may prescribe a broad-spectrum antibiotic such as amoxicillin-clavulanate, or enrofloxacin to help fight infection and try to prevent an abscess from developing.

If your dog's bite wound is more severe, your vet may recommend surgically removing the damaged tissue and placing a drain in order to help your pup's body rid itself of any pooling infection. 

In some cases your vet may also recommend diagnostic testing such as x-rays or ultrasounds to look for injuries not immediately obvious, but potentially serious.

Pain killers may also be prescribed to help your dog feel more comfortable throughout the healing process.

Your vet will likely recommend that your pup wear an e-collar (Elizabethan collar or cone) to prevent them from linking the wound which will increase the risk of infection.

Cleaning the Bite Wound

If for any reason you are unable to get to the vet right away, it is essential to clean the wound as soon as possible and keep it clean. 

  • Very gently wash the bite wound with soap and water and pat dry.
  • Use hydrogen peroxide, chlorhexidene or betadine to dab the wound in order to help kill germs. (Note that the continued use of hydrogen peroxide on the wound is not recommended as it can interfere with the healing process).
  • Use a clean dry gauze pad to dry the wound then apply an antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin. 

The importance of keeping the wound clean cannot be overstated! Clean the wound 3 - 4 times daily with soap and water, then reapply antibiotic ointment to help prevent infection.

How You Can Help Your Dog Heal Following a Dog Bite

Preventing your dog's bite wound from becoming infected will be your number one priority. To that end, it is essential to prevent your pet from licking at the wound. While many pet parents feel bad about making their pup wear an e-collar (Elizabethan collar or 'cone of shame'), these collars are very effective. If your dog is particularly uncomfortable wearing a cone, softer and less intrusive options such as the Kong Cloud Collar are available online and work well.

Be sure to administer medications all as instructed! Antibiotics should be given as directed and for the full amount of time. Don't be tempted to stop giving your dog antibiotics because the wound looks like it has healed. Stopping antibiotic treatment early can cause the infection to return, and be harder to fight.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet. 

Has your dog been bitten by another dog? Contact our Somerset emergency vets to receive urgent veterinary care for your pet any time of the day or night. Late nights, weekends, and holidays, or any time that you are unable to reach your primary care veterinarian, our emergency veterinarians are here to help.

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