Has you or your child been bitten by a dog or other animal? Dog bites can leave devastating injuries and life-changing disfigurement. At Atlantic Surgical Associates in West Long Branch, New Jersey, we treat the soft tissue and structural damage that animal bites can cause with reconstructive plastic surgery. We welcome patients in Ocean, Monmouth, and Essex counties.
How Common Are Dog Bites?
Did you know that there are almost 70 million pet dogs and 74 million pet cats in the United States? The CDC report estimates about 4.5 million dog bites each year in the US. About 900,000 patients seek medical attention every year due to dog bite injuries. However, many dog owners do not report the bites and do not seek medical attention for every bite. Based on my personal experience with my own dog, and I have one mean Chihuahua, I would estimate that the number of total bite events is at least 3 to 4 times greater than the CDC estimates, if not more.
The risk of being bitten by a dog increases if there is a dog in the household. Men are bitten more often than women, and women, on the other hand, are more commonly bitten by cats. Children between the ages of 5 and 9 years old are more common victims of pediatric dog bites. Children are also more likely to be treated for dog bites than adults.
What to Do if Bitten By a Dog or Animal
- Place victim in safe location
- Remove the assailant (dog other animal) to prevent additional injury
- Evaluate Airway, Breathing and Circulation – CPR basics
- Call 911 and request ambulance if indicated
- Caregiver must wear protective gloves.
- Control bleeding with gentle pressure and proceed to the closest Emergency Room or Urgent Care facility, or wait for medical assistance to arrive after dialing 911.
- Elevate bite area
- Wash the injured area with sterile, or clean water, or cooled down previously boiled water or mild soap solution. Make sure to wash inside the wound. Using a clean spray bottle, shower head, or tap water spray nozzle, washing the wound can help in decreasing risk of infection. Cleaning should take at least 10-20 minutes, not 5. You might be surprised how long 15 minutes can be if you actually watch the clock.
- Apply sterile dressing
- Despite popular belief and recommendation on some web sites, antibiotic ointments are not very effective in preventing infections, I personally feel that they create more problems than they solve during first week. I do not recommend the use of alcohol and peroxide on the open bite wounds since they can create chemical damage to open wound tissues on top of potential infection. The idea behind the use of peroxide is for bubbles of oxygen to clean the dirt out of tissues. If you are determined to use it, I suggest diluting commercially available Peroxide solution at least 5 times with saline or water solution to decrease the toxic effect.
- If possible, obtain information from owner on animals immunization status as this information will be needed in the medical facility to determine in rabies prophylaxis is needed. If dog is unknown, wild or immunization status is unclear, rabies immunization must be started as soon as possible. Please remember that if rabies treatment is started early, rabies can be prevented, if the patient ignores medical care and presents to medical facility with clinical signs of rabies, the disease almost always lethal, or leads to death.
- Obtain information on tetanus immunization of the victim.
What Needs to be Treated When a Dog or Animal Bite Occurs?
When treating animal bite victims, the care is focused on three objectives – repair skin, repair underlying structures (bones, tendons, nerves, vessels, muscles, joints, etc.) and prevent infection.
The amount of skin damage may or may not reflect the extent and complexity of the deep structure injury. The anatomic structures of the extremities, hands, feet, or face are very dense and the victim might have extensive injuries to multiple important anatomic structures with fairly small but deep external wounds. This is why it is important that the treating physician is intimately familiar with regional anatomy and with the expertise to properly test all anatomic structures in the zone of injury.
When to Seek Medical Care for a Dog or Animal Bite:
The patient or parent commonly have to make a decision if they need to be seen in the hospital or other medical facility. Here are more common reasons to seek medical care:
- Dog is unknown
- Immunization status is unknown
- Patient is a minor
- Bites are deep,
- Persistent bleeding from bite site
- Changes in function or sensation of the injured area
- Infection or signs of infection
- Patients with a weakened immune system, such as on steroids, on immuno-suppressants, transplant patients, HIV, elderly, malnourished, patients with diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, on dialysis, with cancer, etc
- Bites around the face, neck or/and extremities
- Wound is larger than 1-2 cm
What is the Rabies Prophylaxis for a Dog or Animal bite?
A rabies vaccination involves 3 shots, first dose right away after the bite, second dose 1 week later and the third one 3-4 weeks after the second dose.
What is the Healing Time After a Dog or Animal Bite?
The initial healing will take several weeks but final healing of the skin and deep tissues may take as long as 9-12 months. Some patients may experience chronic pains and discomfort at the bite sites for several years especially if patients are older and / or injuries involved deeper structures, such as tendons, nerves and joints.
Long-term Reconstruction After Dog or Animal Bite
Some patients present to our office after being treated at other locations complaining about the very deformities I am trying to avoid from the start. The reconstruction of deformities may require a deep tissue rotation to improve the shape, fat or fascia grafting to correct indentations, and / or scar revisions.
In many cases these reconstructive surgeries are covered by insurance, especially in children.
If you or your loved one has endured a dog or animal bite and you would like our board certified plastic surgeon, Dr. Boris Volshteyn, to evaluate and treat the wound, please contact our office in West Long Branch, New Jersey and follow the prompts to reach Dr. Volshteyn directly. Atlantic Surgical Associates welcomes patients from surrounding areas of New Brunswick, East Brunswick, and Staten Island, NY.