Bite wounds: more than meets the eye

Bite wounds have been described by one veterinary emergency specialist as "a combination of a crushing injury and a stab wound with the injection of some really nasty oral and faecal bacteria." 

On the surface there may be a small wound but lying beneath there may be a large under-run wound or deep penetrating tract with a bunch of hair pushed in to the area and bruising or crushing of the muscle.  Sometimes other foreign bodies may be carried in to the wound such as dirt, a tooth or a claw.  Crushed or dead muscle can act as a culture medium for bacteria and also as a stimulus for a serious life-threatening condition known as systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS).

It is important not to under estimate the size of a wound or the extent of the injuries.  Often a wound will need surgical attention to open the area wider; to examine the depth of the injury and to remove foreign material and dead tissue.  Extensive flushing is needed and a drain may be placed to allow oxygen to circulate the wound and prevent the growth of bacteria. 

More important than the visible wounds however, may be the overall status of the animal and the possibility of crushing or blunt trauma injury.  An animal traumatised by a fight may present in a state of shock - pale, faint and cold.  Hypovolaemic shock can be more life-threatening than the obvious wounds and treatment may include intravenous fluids, oxygen therapy, pain relief and antibiotic coverage.  Minor clipping and cleaning of the wounds may be attempted whilst the animal is receiving shock therapy but thorough investigation may only be safe after many hours of stabilisation.

Some examples of bite wound cases which demonstrate potential dangers:

  • A Border Collie with multiple dog bite wounds developed a life-threatening heart arrhythmia either as a direct result of trauma to the heart or circulating stress hormones.  Only after 12 hours of shock treatment and anti-arrhythmic drugs could the bite wounds could be properly addressed.
  • A Fox Terrier with bite wounds around the neck where the muscle swelled extensively.  Air was also trapped within the muscle layers and together this resulted in crushing injuries with a very sad ending.
  • A cat grabbed about the abdomen by a dog. Although there were no visible wounds the attack had ruptured the cat's bladder and torn the ureter from its kidney. After being treated for shock, the damage was surgically repaired with a good outcome.

In essence - don't under estimate bite wounds... there may be more lurking beneath the surface than meets the eye!