It is common, unfortunately, for dogs to get into fights. They don’t have the ability to use words so sometimes they turn on each other using teeth. Dog bites are notorious for causing a lot of tissue trauma, especially bruising. The biggest hidden threat with dog bites relates to damage that happens underneath the skin.
Certainly, obvious signs of damage from dog bites include large gashes, hanging skin or muscle, and profuse bleeding. These are obvious reasons to seek medical care. But the hidden air pocket under the skin is the unknown that can cause problems several days after the bite event.
When a dog bites, it grabs the skin and lifts it away from the victim’s body. The tooth, through a puncture, will inoculate slobber containing bacteria into that pocket under the skin. Without good drainage and/or airflow, the bacteria happily grow and can form a pus pocket. This sometimes feels like bubble wrap under the skin. Dogs can become quite ill if this happens as the bacteria cause systemic infection.
Opening the pocket and placing a drain tube is often the best treatment once this happens. Most conventional veterinarians also prescribe antibiotics and pain medications in these cases.
Cats are less likely to cause as much tearing and tissue damage as dogs – cats fight a little bit differently and bite more to make their opponent go away rather than to take their opponent out. However, cat bites are notorious for leaving pus pockets under the skin. Just as with dog bites, when a cat’s teeth puncture the skin, the saliva inoculates bacteria under the skin. But because cats don’t normally rip the skin, it often closes up, hiding evidence of the trauma.
In cats, it’s often several days after a bite until the bite victim becomes ill. The bacteria which were introduced under the skin from the bite grow happily and eventually make the cat feel bad – fever and pain are common – and eventually a pus pocket forms. By this point, the pus pocket is ready to rupture. Once it ruptures, the owners know there was a problem as it’s often a smelly, ugly and messy; ironically, once it opens up, the cat often feels much better as the infection is now open, draining and exposed to air.
What to do at home and when to go to the veterinarian are two important considerations. Certainly, if there is continual bleeding or dangling flaps of skin, your pet needs to go to the veterinarian. If the dog or cat has stopped eating, usually due to infection and fever, and sometimes pain, that is another reason to go to the vet.
Sometimes, small punctures and superficial wounds, can be managed at home. First wash the area, being gentle as the trauma from the bite can be painful. Antibacterial ointments and salves can be beneficial – be sure to apply liberally and frequently so as to ward off any bacterial growth. Also be sure the product you are using is safe for pets – for example, avoid products with zinc as they can be poisonous. Remember, large wounds often need professional help.
If at any point in home care the dog or cat stops eating, becomes lethargic, has worsening pain etc., that is reason to discontinue home care and seek professional help.
One final note about large bite wounds involving significant amounts of trauma: significant skin trauma can permanently destroy the blood flow to an area of skin. Sometimes, a wound is stitched shut but it takes several days for that trauma to become obvious – the edges of the skin will actually die. This means that what was once stitched shut opens up again. In that situation, it’s good to follow up with the veterinarian with at least a picture to evaluate the healing progress. Often, these wounds heal by secondary intention; meaning they will fill in over time.
Bite wounds happen; dogs and cats will use their teeth when other body language doesn’t communicate. Knowing when to take care of the issue at home and went to seek professional help will prevent unnecessary suffering.