Posted on 04-04-2016
Spring has finally sprung! That warm breeze and wonderful sunshine have certainly made my mornings drinking coffee on my deck with my dogs way more enjoyable! With the fields a deep emerald green, the trees sprouting new leaves, and the robins returning from their winter vacations, it is a beautiful time to be outside. There is definitely a spring in our steps, no pun intended!
But as more people and pets step outside, this extra excitement can cause some big trouble. As winter thaws out, more owners and their pets take advantage of walking, hiking, camping, and hitting the dog park. This creates more opportunities for unfriendly encounters. Sadly, our clinic has seen our fair share of fights since January. The weather has been off and on for a few months now, but it has been guaranteed that every time a warm spell came upon us, we saw victims of unpleasant encounters. Everything from minor scrapes and bruises to full on amputations and surgery to place draining tubes has walked through our doors. While these situations are completely out of anyone’s control, there are a few things you can do to keep your pooch happy, healthy, and safe.
There are two very important keys to remember to help reduce or prevent the risk of fights. The most important thing you can do as a pet owner is to know your dog. “The key to knowing your dog is understanding what makes them anxious or excited,” says Dr. Poole. Understanding your dog’s triggers for fear or aggression can help you act immediately to avoid a dangerous situation. Also recognizing their limits and never being in a scenario that pushes them will keep your pet safe and happy. For example, if your dog is scared around crowds or lots of people, avoid places like Petsmart and the dog park during peak hours or on the weekends where there is a high volume of pets and people than during the week. If your dog does not like car rides, try exercising them in your own neighborhood instead of driving across town to your favorite hiking spot. When dogs are in uncomfortable situations, fear and aggression are natural responses to stress and theses emotions can lead to negative reactions. When you remove those triggers and keep your dog in comfortable situations, you and your pet can enjoy your springtime activities even more!
The second most important thing to remember is to keep your dog updated on their rabies vaccine. While this does not prevent attacks, it is IMPERATIVE that this legally-required vaccine is current as it is the only protection available to keep your pet from contracting the rabies virus. Rabies is a debilitating disease that attacks the central nervous system, eventually overtaking the brain and causing death. While rabies is most commonly seen among wildlife, such as possums, raccoons, and foxes, the disease is easily transmittable through saliva—bite wounds are the most collective method of transition among animals. Unknown pets or strays have more of a risk of being infected due to their close proximity to wildlife and unknown histories. At this time, there is no treatment or cure for rabies and most animals that contract the disease die within ten days. The Center for Disease Control states that pets current on their rabies vaccine have little to no chance of contracting rabies. It is for this reason that every state in the US requires the vaccine be given to puppies after the age of 12 weeks and must be kept current for the remainder of the dog’s life. Any dog that comes in to our clinic with suspect or confirmed dogfight-related wounds from an unknown dog or animal immediately receives a rabies booster, but keep in mind this booster can only work if the dog has received the vaccine before. CCAH offers this vaccine without the additional cost of an exam and anyone can walk into our clinic between the hours of 8am and 9pm to get it administered. As our vet tech, Brittany can attest to, vaccines aren't all that scary! We make the inoculation fun and enjoyable for every pet.
Even though these two key points help avoid the potential for dangerous situations, we don’t live in a perfect world and bad things do happen. I was reminded of this two summers ago when I was running with my GSD, Max. It was a wonderfully sunny day when we were approached by two aggressive dogs that had gotten loose from a neighbor’s yard. I was able to keep them away by kicking out with my legs, yelling for help, and making sure I had control of my dog at all times. I was saved—and this is no joke—by the mailwoman who had had issues when these pets before and knew what to do. Nevertheless, the encounter left me shaken and it made me question what I could do if ever faced with that situation again. After talking to Dr. Poole, it was clear I did all that I could.
“If you can make a big enough distraction,” she explains, “it can give you that one moment to break up a fight.” She suggests clapping your hands very loud, hitting other objects together (like a stick against a garbage can), or yelling like I did to create a big enough distraction that would allow you to quickly remove your animal from the situation. If these do not work, there are two safe options you can try. The first is literally pulling your leashed dog to safety. Every pet should be leashed to a harness or collar so they can be controlled at all times when you’re out of the house. In a dogfight situation, being able to control and move your pet where you want them can mean the difference between minor and major wounds. The last resort if your pet is not leashed or you have lost control, is to pull your dog away by grabbing on to their back legs. “You never want to gain control by grabbing for their face or their neck,” says Dr. Poole. “When a dog is in that fight mode, they can easily turn around and bite you.” When you grab for your dog’s legs, it gives you more time to react if they try to bite.
Once you have removed your pet from the fight, immediately call and make your way to the vet. Dogfight wounds range from scratches to full-on punctures to vital organs, but even scratches can go downhill fast.
“We have what we call the “Golden Window,’ “explains Dr. Poole. “There is a period of four hours after a dogfight where we can successfully treat superficial wounds. When we go outside this window, minor bumps and scrapes can get infected and complications can occur.” Treatment outside of the Golden Window tends to be longer and more aggressive due to the increased risks.
When inside the Golden Window, Dr. Poole says most wounds are easily cleaned and a few staples are needed to close up minor gashes. We’ve had several dogfight victims cleaned up and ready to go home after an hour or so. In one case we had a puppy attacked by an older dog that resulted in a split forehead. Because the dog was brought in immediately, treatment was quick and the site healed well without complications. In a recent case, our very own Softheart’s cat Big Guy was a suspect fight that led to a badly broken leg. Even with treatment (which was several months), Dr.’s decided to amputate after progress was slow to non-existent. He has now found his forever home and is a happy, indoor-only lap kitty. In yet another dogfight case, a little chihuahua mix, Mimi, also broke her leg, but is healing great with plenty of strict rest and love--her cast is a testament to that!
“When we assess dogfight wounds, there are factors owners may not even consider to be an issue at first,” Dr. Poole says. “This is why we always want the dog brought in. We can catch something that might look minor, but in reality be a very serious issue.” Dr. Poole says puncture wounds are the trickiest. While some are superficial, most have the potential to puncture vital organs or break bones. In a very recent case, a female dog had her front declaw almost completely detached and the bone and muscle structure surrounding it had been broken and shredded—this injury went unnoticed by the owners until the vet was able to properly assess it.
Dr. Poole recommends owners to be extra cautious of wounds to the face, throat, and abdomen. “Bite wounds to the face can cause major swelling that can affect vision and breathing. We are always concerned about eyes, as they are extremely sensitive… Dogs are also very instinctual—it is natural from them to go for the jugular in a fight situation.” She says owners should be aware that scratches to the ears could look worse than they are. “Ears bleed the easiest,” Dr. Poole says. “The are very vascular and contain many blood vessels.” Punctures to the abdomen and chest usually involve surgery to assess vital organs and to repair them if possible.
“The weather is warmer, people want to go out with their pets. It is this time of year that we see dogfights pick up,” says Dr. Poole.
Keep in mind these tips the next time you lace up your shoes and grab your pet’s leash for the next warm-weather adventure. Try to have a plan in case you encounter a strange animal. Remember your pets triggers and asses whether a certain place or event would be appropriate for your pet. As always, make sure your pet’s vaccines are current and last but not least, know where your nearest vet is.
“No matter what kind of scuffle your pet was involved in, you should always bring them immediately to a vet,” Dr. Poole says. “You can never know to what extent an injury truly is.”
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