Dog and cat bites

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Dog and cat bites

The mouths of dogs and cats are filled with bacteria which can cause serious infections if a bite occurs. In addition the teeth can penetrate into tissue and cause both superficial and deeper, more serious damage to internal structures. For some dogs, such as large or particularly strong breeds such as those bred for fighting, the forces generated during a bite can crush the tissue causing severe bruising and damage to internal organs.

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Cat bites

Cat bites are unlikely to cause any life threatening damage, but can cause serious infections. If your cat has been bitten, you may not notice straight away, but in some cases they can develop an infection in the skin. This may appear as a swollen, red and painful area, or a pocket of pus (an abscess). Your pet may appear lethargic, have a fever and not be eating. If you suspect your cat has been bitten, they will need to see a vet for pain relief and antibiotics. If an abscess has been caused by the bite, it will need lancing (draining) if it has not already burst and it will need to be carefully cleaned.

If you have been bitten by a cat, you should thoroughly wash the bite in warm soapy water and seek medical attention. Humans will require antibiotics for cat bites and these need to be started as soon as possible.

Dog bites

The action required in the case of a dog bite will depend on many factors, including the sizes of the dogs involved, the severity of the bite, the location and how easy it is to clean. If a bite causes bleeding, you should apply firm constant pressure for ten minutes, and seek advice if it is not improved after ten minutes.

Small superficial puncture wounds can be cleaned with warm salt water or diluted chlorhexidine (such as hibiscrub). If they start to become red, your dog is showing signs of pain in the area or there is any green/yellow pus then you should consult a vet straight away.

If the bite wounds are deep, there is significant bruising, or the bites were very traumatic such as a large dog shaking a small dog or a cat, you should always get your pet seen by your vet as soon as possible. Bites to the ribcage, abdomen and neck are the most serious as teeth can penetrate the chest or abdominal cavity and cause serious internal injuries. These cases will require pain relief, exploration of the wounds under anaesthetic and often imaging such as x-rays. If you are unsure whether the bite is deep it is best to seek professional advice from a vet as soon as possible.

If you are bitten by a dog, thoroughly clean the wound with warm soapy water and seek medical advice.

Preventing dog and cat bites

If you know your dog is reactive and has a history of getting into altercations it is worth taking measures to prevent fights occurring. It is important to keep your dog on a lead in public places and it is a good idea to muzzle train your dog to protect others from being bitten. Consulting a qualified behaviourist to work on modifying your dog’s behaviour can be really helpful and in some cases, live saving.

Preventing bites is much more difficult to achieve in cats, particularly outdoor cats. If you know the owner of the perpetrating cat, it may be worth discussing whether an agreement can be made on the timings of letting the cats outdoors to prevent them crossing paths. Alternatively, cat proofing your garden may be an option with the use of specialist cat fencing which prevents your cats from leaving the garden and others from entering. A “catio” can also be built if it is suitable, which is a small outdoor run attached to the house.

If your cat tends to bite people, it is worth having a consultation with a vet to check for any medical reason why they may be aggressive, such as pain which can be treated, and then take steps to prevent antagonising them.

Ensuring they are neutered, providing them with enough resources such as food, water and litter trays, and giving them lots of cat friendly sleeping and climbing areas, will reduce cat to cat aggression in the home. If your cats are regularly fighting you may need to seek professional advice from a qualified behaviourist and in some cases rehome the cats that are not coping, if environmental modification proves unsuccessful.

It is also important that when your puppy or kitten is young, not to play with them using your hands or feet, as this can encourage biting behaviours in adulthood.

Further reading:

How to treat minor wounds

How to socialise your puppy

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Published: 07/11/2021

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