Each spring, children shed their coats and hats and take to the outdoors. But many dangers abound amidst the simple pleasures of longer days and warmer weather. Children are not the only ones running free through the backyards and open spaces of our neighborhoods. Dogs, cats and other animals also spend more time outdoors, which could spell trouble for you and your children.
Each year, Americans report an estimated two million bite wounds. Dogs account for nearly 90 percent of that figure. Perhaps even more importantly, dogs or cats belonging to the victim’s family or neighbor inflict nearly 80 percent of all bites. Although most bite wounds are minor, all bite wounds have the potential for serious consequences, and even death.
One third of bite wound victims are children. In most cases, the dogs are provoked. Children may not know the difference between play and provocation. That is why it is important to teach your children the proper ways to treat an animal. Children should be weary of animals that are not their own, and keep their distance from them. As for their own animals, you should be certain to teach them that while dogs can be pets, they are animals first. Teach your children to back away from a dog that is baring its teeth or growling—these are some of the ways that dogs communicate anger or fear.
Young dogs and female dogs are the most likely attackers. Young dogs are less likely to be trained, and therefore, may not understand that biting is not an acceptable playful behavior. Dog bites are most likely to occur on the extremities of the fingers, hands and wrists. However, dogs may bite the head or the neck of the child, increasing the propensity of a more serious wound.
If a child suffers a bite wound, it is important that they receive medical attention. As a parent, you bring valuable information with you to the doctor’s office or emergency room, such as the status of your child’s tetanus immunization and the likelihood of exposure to rabies. If it is a family pet, you can find out from your veterinarian when it received its rabies vaccination. If the bite wound came from a neighbor’s dog, try and ascertain the information from your neighbor.
Bite wounds can cause puncture wounds or lacerations to the skin. A bite wound can be complicated because of the nature of the injury—not only is the skin broken, the force of the jaws on the body can damage underlying tendons, ligaments, nerve tissue, and bones. A detailed and through analysis of the extent of the injury may include x-rays if the wound looks to have penetrated beyond the skin. A physician will thoroughly cleanse the bite wound, and debride any devitalized tissue, to aid the healing process.
Complicating bite wounds are the risk of infection. Animal saliva contains a variety of infectious agents, including staphylococcus bacteria. Puncture wounds are more likely to become infected than lacerations, but both kinds of wounds should be treated with appropriate steps to prevent infection, which may include the use of prophylactic antibiotics.
Bite wounds account for 1 percent of all emergency room visits. Each year, they claim responsibility for 10-20 lives. Spend extra time with your children this spring reminding them of the risk of animal bite wounds.
Louisiana State University, Shreveport, Louisiana