Bite Wounds

The mating season in the autumn is associated with an increase in the number of bite wounds requiring veterinary treatment in both dogs and cats.

Male cats become more active at this time of year and have no respect for private property.

The quiet, desexed family pet finds itself having to defend its territory against an aggressive, nomadic foe and very often comes off second-best. Male dogs quarrel for the right to wait on a local bitch in season and very often a small dog is set upon by the whole pack of expectant suitors.

Cat bites invariably become infected. The teeth of the cat are sharp and long, carrying bacteria deep into the tissues of the victim. As the initial opening in the skin is small the wound seals over and provides ideal conditions for the speedy multiplication of the introduced microbial invaders.

Considerable swelling of the surrounding tissues occurs and the infection can travel extensively in the fatty tissues under the cat’s skin. A painful abscess develops and the cat can become quite sick from absorbing the toxic by-products associated with destruction of tissues and white blood cells.

Infected wounds over the base of the tail are very common and cause the cat considerable pain. Even gentle handling of the tail can elicit a violent response and normally gentle cats can become quite savage when suffering an infection at the base of the spine.

Wounds around the cat’s head require special attention. A common site of infection is at the base of the ear, or between the eyes. These are scratch wounds which quickly form an abscess and eventually discharge only to form again a few days later. Infections at the top of the head seem particularly prone to recur, probably due to the relative lack of a blood supply in the subcutaneous tissue.

The teeth of the dog are shorter and are relatively blunt. The wound tends to be more open and there is more contusion of the surrounding tissue, and therefore more pain immediately after the bite. Large dogs tend to grab smaller victims and shake them, so that a small dog may be profoundly shocked after a fight and may have suffered other injuries such as rupture of abdominal muscles and contusions of the tissues around the eyes.

Appropriate early treatment of wounds can avoid later complications of infection. The first essential in the treatment of any bite or scratch is to locate all the wounds and remove the hair covering them as completely as possible.

This is best done with a pair of sharp scissors and should completely free the area so that surrounding hair does not lie over the wound as soon as the animal lies down. Very often a plug of hair has been forced deeply into the wound and this should be removed completely with a pair of forceps, as this is one of the major causes of serious subsequent infections.

Blood and serum escaping from the wound can matt the surrounding hair and subsequent bacterial growth can cause a severe dermatitis of the surrounding skin, which further complicates the disease process.

Wash the wound with a simple saline solution made from adding a teaspoonful of salt to 500ml of water. Repeat this until all traces of dirt and loose hair has been removed from the depths of the wounds. Do not apply strong disinfectants such as iodine or carbolic-based chemicals, as these only further damage the patient’s tissues and inhibit the natural defense mechanisms.

Where the animal seems shocked, or if the wound may require stitching, consult your veterinarian at once. It is much easier to repair wounds and prevent serious infections if injuries are attended before infection has become well established.

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