Bite wounds are a common cause of trauma in dogs and typically result from altercations with other dogs, cats and wildlife. Bite wounds are puncture wounds and while they may appear small they can spell big trouble for your dog. Their deceptive nature lies in the fact that while the external wound can be small, the same wound can be deep, extending through the skin and into the subcutaneous tissues and muscles. There is a high risk of infection with bite wounds because of the numerous bacteria that are normally harbored in an animal’s mouth. Because the surface wound is usually small it tends to heal fast, trapping the bacteria in the deep wound. This creates an ideal environment for some bacteria to grow and result in an abscess.
Cat bites are the most likely to cause abscesses because their teeth are long and needle thin. They introduce bacteria deep into the wound and the tiny puncture wound closes up usually within a day or two. Dog bites are usually shallower and the external wounds are typically bigger than a cat bite thus the rate of abscessation is lower but still possible.
There are steps you can take if your dog is bitten that can dramatically decrease the risk of complications:
Control any bleeding by applying a clean towel or washcloth to the wound and apply firm pressure. Dog bites tend to bleed more than cat bites and it also depends where the bite wound is located. Wounds in the highly vascular ear and nose tend to bleed a lot while legs and trunk may not bleed much.
Seek immediate veterinary attention to evaluate the wound.Your vet will look to see how deep it is, judge how much dead space is involved and make recommendations for treatment. Dead space is created when the skin is pulled away from the underlying subcutaneous tissue creating a pocket of air between the skin and the underlying tissue. If the space is large, bacteria tend to grow creating an abscess. Typically one of two things will happen, your vet will clean the wound and prescribe antibiotics or if the wound is deep it may need a surgical drain.
If the wound is superficial, start the cleaning process by applying a small amount of KY jelly (or other water-based lubricant) into the wound and clipping the fur around the wound — the KY jelly will keep the clipped fur out of the wound and you can wipe it off with a washcloth after clipping. Clipping the fur makes it easy to clean the wound and prevents bacteria on the fur from contaminating the wound. Once the fur is clipped, clean the wound thoroughly with a chlorhexidene or betadine solution.
Home care involves cleaning the wound gently with hydrogen peroxide moistened gauze three or four times a day and then applying a small amount of a triple antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin to the wound. It is important to monitor the wound for the three signs of infection which are: excessive redness, swelling or purulent discharge. If you notice any signs of infection then a re-check with your veterinarian is needed.
Continue the oral antibiotics as directed by your veterinarian. It is important to restrict exercise as a dogs skin is very motile; if she is too active she may keep reopening the wound delaying healing and increasing the risk of abscessation.
If your veterinarian needs to install a drain, home care is similar. Keep the area around the drain clear of discharge by swabbing the area with hydrogen peroxide or a topical cleaning solution like Vetericyn as needed. After a few days (usually three to four days), the discharge stops and the drain is ready to be removed by your regular veterinarian. The wound is then cleaned as above until fully healed.
With timely veterinary treatment and good nursing care at home most bite wounds will heal with little complications.