Cat & dog bite wounds

Cat & dog bite wounds
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Filed under Cats, Dogs, Kittens, Puppies.
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Dogs and cats with bite wounds are frequently presented at Vet Hospital Port Shepstone. Dogs get bitten by other family dogs, unknown/stray dogs or by monkeys. Cats get bitten by dogs and other cats (most frequently stray cats).

Although some cases are presented with minor bleeding and a couple of puncture wounds in the skin, others present as a major, life threatening situation.

Dog bite wounds to back
Sharpei with multiple old bite wounds on its back. Fur has been shaved. Image from personal archive.

Bite wounds not only cause physical damage to the victim, but also introduce bacteria into the affected tissues. In severe cases, shock can also be present or imminent. Bite wounds have the following in common:

  • Skin penetration and/or lacerations
  • Minor or major bleeding
  • Subcutaneous bruising
  • Introduction of bacteria
  • Pain
  • Degree of shock

Sometimes a patient is lucky, where only skin and muscle tissues are affected, while in others, essential structures are affected/damaged:

  • Bones, causing bone fractures
  • The air pipe/trachea, causing obstruction of breathing
  • Superficial nerves, causing a degree of paralysis
  • Eyes, causing visual impairment
  • Major arteries or veins, causing bleeding
  • Brain & spinal cord, causing brain impairment and/or paralysis to the limbs

Irrespective of the severity, it is always recommended to have your dog or cat evaluated by your family veterinarian as soon as possible. Some cases need immediate attention, while others can wait until the next morning. Do not wait and see if the wounds will heal on their own. Rather seek veterinary attention.

Cats fighting
Cat fights very often lead to serious bite wounds. Image from

In the case of multiple bite wounds, when the animal is in severe pain, recumbent or if you are unable to stop moderate or severe bleeding within minutes, your family veterinarian or closest animal hospital should be contacted immediately for intensive treatment. Most of these cases will need to be hospitalised.

Basic home care

  • Stop the bleeding by applying constant pressure
  • Wash and keep the wounds clean
  • Keep the animal inside and warm
  • Never give human painkillers to dogs or cats without consulting with a veterinarian first!

The contribution of subcutaneous bruising & bacteria

Animal teeth are riddled with bacteria. After a penetrating bite, bacteria are introduced into the wound. In combination with bruising, this makes the perfect place for bacteria to grow excessively. Antibiotics on their own are very often not enough to clear animal bite wounds. If these wounds are not properly cleaned, flushed and/or drained, they will become septic and can abscessate. This typically happens a few days after the incident. When neglected, septic wounds on itheir own can become a life-threatening condition.

Surgical treatment / operations

Most animal bite wounds are treated surgically. Mild or general anaesthesia is almost always indicated during the surgical cleaning and stitching of wounds. Many veterinary surgeons prefer to install temporary drains into bite wounds to allow wound drainage for a few days after the surgery. With large open wounds where stitching is impossible, bandaging can be preferred.

Healing bite wound cat
Healing bite wound on a cat’s back 10 days after medical treatment was started. Image from personal archive.

Treating shock

Before any surgical treatment and anaesthesia is indicated, bitten dogs and cats should first be declared stable. Traumatic shock is usually evident in more severe cases, but any bitten pet can develop shock up to a few hours after the incident.

Shock treatment for bite wounds
Severely affected bite wound victims often need to be treated for shock before anaesthesia is attempted. Image from personal archive.

Dogs and cats that are already showing signs of shock, or where there is a suspicion that it can still happen, should get intensive shock treatment (including an intravenous drip and anti-shock medication) until their vitals are stable.

Prevention of bite wounds

Dogs and cats will fight and bite for various reasons. To aid in the prevention, all animals should be sterilised, especially male dogs and cats. The best way to prevent fighting is by isolation from each other and to prevent dogs and cats from roaming. Behavioural modification guided by an experienced dog behaviorist will also go a long way in preventing family members from fighting. Without modification, very often fighting dogs will continue fighting in the future if the situation allows.

A note on Rabies & bites to humans

If your animal is still in the middle of a fight with an unknown stray dog, cat or monkey, refrain from interfering to prevent yourself from being bitten. Also remember that some bite wound patients are extremely sore. Some animals might even bite their owners when touched.

When a human is bitten for whatever reason, seek medical attention immediately. More on the Rabies virus here.

A note on FIV / FeLV

Feline Aids (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) are mainly transmitted through cat bite wounds. Roaming cats should be vaccinated and regularly tested for these diseases.

About the author
About the author
Renier is a qualified, experienced companion animal veterinarian whose main interests are animal health and strengthening pet-owner relationships.
View all posts by Dr Renier Delport (BVSc.)

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