We were out hiking on a local trail on Wednesday this week when two members of our pack were attacked by two off leash dogs. One of our dogs, Zekie, suffered only minor injury. Another of our dogs, a Shetland Sheepdog, Shelby, suffered more extensive wounds. I want to share with you what I learned about dog bite wounds and the progression. I have been involved in the dog world for most of my life, but mercifully have never had reason to learn much about dog bites, until now. The photos become increasingly graphic as the days pass, so be forewarned if this type of image bothers you.
Immediately after the attack, we did not even realize that Shelby had any injuries aside from a slight limp. We were unable to find any visible wounds. As the hours progressed, I suspected that something else was wrong because our other dogs kept sniffing Shelby and did not want to leave her alone, even when scolded. I got her up on the couch and looked her over again. I found the above puncture wound and a small amount of bruising, plus a tooth nick on her outer thigh. Since our veterinarian was already closed for the day, we decided to monitor Shelby until the next morning.
After examining the wound the next morning, it was still open and I saw the puncture passed through the entire layer of skin, leaving the area open to possible infection. At this point I did an internet search on damage from dog bites and what I found was scary.
I learned about a medical term I was heretofore unfamiliar with, undermining. Undermining is damage that extends in all directions under the skin and into subcutaneous tissues. The damage is therefore not visible to the eye. Tearing and crushing may have gone far into the underlying tissues because of the way a biting dog moves and thrusts its jaw and head. The damage can be very extensive. The puncturing bite also introduces bacteria into the wound from the biting dog’s mouth, not generally from the wounded animal’s skin.
This information put the fear of God into me and had me immediately on the phone to my vet and making an appointment. They got Shelby in within a couple hours and also advised me to bring Zekie in for a check, which I did. (Zekie was fine except for some bruising.) I’m so glad I followed through and took the dogs in. Shelby had undermining cranially and caudally from her abdominal bite, which means towards her head and tail. The damage was indeed difficult for the lay person to determine.
She also had a few injuries from the other dog’s teeth on her outer thigh. They were not nearly as severe as the abdominal wound and the antibiotics that she would get for the puncture wound would cover these too.
The course of treatment for the abdominal wound was antibiotics, pain meds, and warm compresses to drain fluid out and help keep the wound open. The vet said she was very concerned and there was a potential for peritonitis which is abdominal infection and/or inflammation and associated side effects. I was told the first 24-48 hours are critical and that I should bring Shelby back the next morning for evaluation. The antibiotics are to prevent infection from the biting dog’s teeth and bacterial peritonitis. Pain medication is used because dog bites are extremely painful. Punctures from dog bites are not usually sutured, only gaping wounds are stitched. The punctures are left open so they can drain.
Shelby’s re-check at the vet office was to see if her internal damage was extensive enough that she would need surgery to remove the underlying damaged tissue and a drain inserted. Mercifully, she did not. Due to the nature of her wound, it is hoped by me continuing the warm compresses three times a day and mechanically keeping the wound from closing will continue to be enough.
Shelby is such a good girl that she let me tend her wounds without complaint. I’m sure it didn’t feel good, but she seemed to know that I was helping her and taking care of her.
By Friday, the World’s best patient award goes to….(drumroll) Shelby! When it is time for Shelby’s warm compresses and wound maintenance, we go into the bathroom and I shut the door. I get everything ready and then sit on the bathroom floor. I tap the floor in front of me with my fingernail. After doing this routine since Thursday, Shelby now sits in front of me, lays down, and rolls over on her back, waiting for me to take care of her. She remains still throughout the procedure except for occasionally waving a paw at me if I pause the belly rubbing. When it is done, we get up and I give her a small treat. We exit the bathroom and she follows me around, being my buddy. Good girl Shelby, good girl.
I hope this is the end of the story and Shelby continues her healing without incident. But until she is 100% healed, I am watching her closely just to be safe.