I am a dog lover and we have always had a dog in our house….even before we had our children. But, some dogs will bite and unfortunately there are more than 800,000 people every year who receive medical care for a dog bite…more than half of these are children.
Children are also more likely to be severely injured from a dog bite…and I was reminded of this today when I saw a very serious dog bite to a child’s face. The child was brought to my office by his nanny after being bitten on his cheek by the family’s dog. It was one of the worst bites I have ever seen! He was severely injured and should have actually gone straight to the ER….the good news is that he will ok, but he had to undergo surgery to repair the bite and will probably require another small surgery at some later date.
In this case as in most, the dog bite occurs when a child is interacting with a familiar dog, and in this case it was the family pet. The little boy is a toddler with a twin sister and they were playing when he was bitten. The dog had been around the children since they were born…and it is unclear what precipitated the bite. Sometimes a dog becomes aggressive if they are bothered while they are eating or sleeping…and you know toddlers, they can “bother” anyone.
One of my “boys” is also a dog bite statistic. He was raised with dogs (my sweet lab Maggie is at my feet as I am writing), so I was totally caught off guard one night when the phone rang. My son had been spending the night at a friend’s house (he was about 10 years old) and the voice on the other end of the phone was the father of the friend (he too a doctor), informing me that my child had been bitten by their dog. It seemed the boys were laying on the floor on blankets watching a movie and eating popcorn and for some “unknown “ reason the dog bit my son on his face. The bite was not precipitated by anything…they had not been playing or rough housing with the dog and the dog had not been known to be aggressive. The next words out of the father’s mouth…”do you know a good plastic surgeon?” Not words you want to hear from another physician.
Thankfully, I did know a good plastic surgeon who I awakened after his long day in the OR….and he got out of bed and met us to suture my son’s face with over 20 stitches. Luckily it only involved his nose, cheek and chin, just barely missing his left eye. I am sure I cried more than my son. He still has a scar across his nose..which only bothers his mother. Incredibly, he never “blamed” their dog, went back to play at their house, and still loves his own dogs more than anything. My brother who is a vet still thinks that any dog that bites without provocation should not stay in the home with children…but that is one vet’s opinion.
It is especially important to teach your children never to approach a dog to pet it without first asking the owner if it is okay. Children should learn to move slowly and let the dog “sniff” them first and to stay away from their face and tail. Teach your child how to gently pet an animal and to always be gentle. If they are around a dog who is behaving in a threatening manner by growling or barking, they should slowly back away from the dog and try to avoid eye contact with the dog. If they are ever knocked over by a dog they should curl up in and ball and protect their face with their arms.
If your child is bitten and it is superficial it will probably just require care with soap and water. For bites that break the skin you should check in with your pediatrician. Make sure you know the rabies vaccination status of the dog that bit. You also need to make sure that your child is up to date on their tetanus vaccination. In some cases your child may also need an antibiotic.