Animal Bites

“When your best friend bites…” is title of an article in the Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases (CJID). It’s not about human friends who bite but it is about animal friends – dogs and cats.

Dogs and cats are very important to millions of Canadians. It is estimated that there are more than 100 million cats and dogs owned as pets in Canada and the United States. Do these domesticated animals bite? Of course, they do! I know it and many of you have been victims of these domesticated animals. In fact, one to two million dog bites are reported in both countries every year.

The CJID article says that up to 85 percent of dog and cat bites are caused by the victims’ family pet or by a neighbour’s pet. About half of these bites are considered to have been provoked. And 5 to 9 year old males sustain dog bites most frequently. So, let us not blame our animal friends for all the injuries.

And injuries are many. According to the Canadian Injury Reporting and Prevention Program, injuries related to dog bites account for one percent of all visits to hospital emergency departments.

These injuries are more serious in children than in adults. Children are more likely to be bitten on the face, neck and head in upto 70 percent of cases. Children account for the majority of the 10 to 20 deaths from animal bites that occur annually in the United States, says the CJID article.

Is this acceptable? Can we reduce the injury rate? After all, dogs are our best friends!

We should encourage dog owners to take responsibilities with regard to training their pets. This should include discouraging aggressive behaviour when animals are young, says the article. We should teach our children and adults about the risks involved in provoking dogs and other animals. Should we certify certain breeds as being dangerous and not fit to be pets? This is debatable.

What is the appropriate treatment for dog and cat bites?

Your physician will enquire about the status of tetanus immunization and give you a booster dose. He will assess the risk of rabies and arrange appropriate prophylaxis. The wound will require cleaning with removal of dead and dirty tissue. You may require prophylactic antibiotics.

The immunization status of the animal in question should be checked. The local animal control agency should be notified so that they can quarantine the animal and keep it under observation for up to 10 days to see whether clinical symptoms develop, says the author of the CJ ID article.

Dogs and cats can be dangerous. They can be lot of fun as well. Especially for children. But we have to be careful. We do not want fun to turn into fatality.

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