Dogfight Injuries and Wounds

Dogs

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Dogfights can occur between two dogs or a dog and a cat. The strength of a dog's jaw can cause severe and extensive damage. Of all trauma-related veterinary visits, 10 to 15 percent are related to bite wounds.

Dog bites can result in the crushing, tearing, puncturing or laceration of tissue. What appears to be a minor skin wound can hide extensive underlying damage. Some bite wounds, depending on the area of the body affected, can be life threatening. The most common injuries associated with dogfights are lacerations and puncture wounds.

Dogs may also fight over food, territory, dominance or owner attention. Dogfights usually occur when two adults meet for the first time and neither one backs down. Dogs adhere to a hierarchy, where one dog is considered the alpha. If two dominant dogs meet, they will fight until one submits. Females may fight to protect their young, their food source, or a perceived threat to the valuable resources needed to raise her young. Typically in the wild, only alpha females can have puppies. If the pack is small or food sources are scarce, beta females do not have puppies. A female may fight with another female to protect her alpha status, attain a higher status, or secure her resources.

Female to female fights tend to result in more severe injury. It has also been theorized that female fights may be more severe; because female dogs may not pick up on subtle signs of submission as readily as male dogs.

Fights between a large dog and a small dog or cat typically result in the most severe injuries or death.

Since the mouth has a large population of bacteria, all dogfight wounds are considered contaminated and prone to infection. Some dogfights can result in the spread of contagious diseases. In the case of dogs, rabies can be transmitted from a contagious rabid dog to the victim.

What to Watch For

  • Bleeding
  • Swelling
  • Drainage
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Limping
  • Weakness
  • Collapse

    Diagnosis

    Diagnosing a dogfight wound is simple, but determining the extent of the damage is more challenging. Depending on the site of the wound, various diagnostics may be required.

  • The first step is a thorough physical examination
  • X-rays of the injured area may be necessary
  • Special dye studies may be needed if the intestinal tract or urinary tract might be injured

    Treatment

    The treatment for dogfight injury is based on the area of the body injured.

  • Most dog bites are treated with antibiotics
  • Pain medications and possibly sedatives may be prescribed
  • If severe injury has occurred, hospitalization with intravenous fluids may be recommended
  • Some injured animals may require surgery

    Home Care

    Stop any excessive bleeding by using direct pressure. Do not use a tourniquet. Initial cleaning of the wound with hydrogen peroxide, povidone iodine or chlorhexidine can help reduce the severity of infection.

    All dogfight victims should be examined by a veterinarian. Minor skin wounds can hide severe underlying damage.

    Preventative Care

    To prevent a dogfight, avoid situations that may result in a confrontation. Do not allow your pet to roam. Keep cats indoors. Keep your dog on a leash, especially when visiting parks, neighbors, etc. Obedient dogs are less likely to participate in fights. Proper dog training is recommended.

    Unfortunately, not all pet owners follow these suggestions. You may do everything possible to prevent a fight but a stray dog may come upon you and your leashed pet and a fight may still occur. Some fights cannot be prevented.

  • Dogfights comprise about 10 to 15 percent of all traumas. Dogs have strong jaws and their bites can result in severe injury. In addition to biting and crushing, dogs tend to shake their victims, which also has the potential to cause severe damage. The most severely injured animals are usually small dogs or cats attacked by large dogs.

    Small skin puncture may appear insignificant but are deceptive. After the tooth penetrates the skin, further damage occurs as the tooth tears and rips the tissue underneath. Since the skin is flexible, after the tooth penetrates, the skin can move with the tooth and not result in additional damage. This is why a minor skin wound can hide extensive, and sometimes severe, underlying injury.

    Wounds to the neck, face, genitals and legs are most common. The damage that occurs is based on the area of the body bitten. The most life threatening wounds occur in the neck and groin area.

    Wounds to the skin can include:

  • Punctures
  • Lacerations
  • Skin tearing and removal (degloving)

    Wounds to the legs can include:
  • Fractured bones
  • Nerve damage
  • Severe bleeding if a major blood vessel is torn
  • Dislocated joints

    Wounds to the chest can include:
  • Fractured ribs
  • Bruising or bleeding within the lungs
  • Pneumothorax (air trapped outside the lungs due to a collapsed lung)
  • Punctures of the chest wall
  • Infections within the chest (pyothorax)
  • Bruising of the heart
  • Diaphragmatic hernia

    Wounds to the neck can include:
  • Torn trachea
  • Punctured esophagus
  • Nerve damage
  • Severe bleeding
  • Airway damage

    Wounds to the face and head can include:
  • Fractured or dislocated jaw
  • Eye injuries such as corneal lacerations, eye punctures or ruptures
  • Proptosed eye
  • Extensive bleeding
  • Airway trauma (nose and mouth)
  • Fractured teeth
  • Head trauma

    Wounds to the abdomen can include:
  • Perforations of the intestines
  • Ruptured spleen or liver
  • Abdominal infection (peritonitis)
  • Abdominal hernia
  • Kidney damage, possibly rupture of a kidney

    Wounds to the genital area can include:
  • Vaginal tears
  • Urethral tears
  • Penile laceration
  • Testicular laceration or puncture

  • Diagnosing the extent of the dogfight damage can be a challenge. Based on the area of the body involved, various tests may be required.

  • The most important part of diagnosing dogfight injury is a thorough physical examination. All body parts need to be examined to find all the damage and help determine which additional tests may be required.

  • For chest damage, radiographs (x-rays) are recommended to determine if there is lung damage.

  • For abdominal damage, radiographs are recommended to determine the presence of a hernia or abdominal fluid.

  • Ultrasound may be recommended if organ damage is suspected.

  • Blood tests may be done to determine the overall health of the animal and help determine proper anesthetic protocols. Usually, initial blood tests are normal.

  • Special dye studies may be needed to determine if there is a perforation of the intestinal tract, esophagus, stomach, intestines. Dye studies can also be used if urinary tract damage is suspected. (kidney, ureters, urethra)

  • CT or MRI may be needed if ultrasound and radiographs are unable to definitively determine the extent of the damage. Due to expense and availability, CT and MRI are not commonly done associated with dogfights.

    Treatment for dogfight wounds depends of the area of the body affected. For nearly all dogfight injuries, antibiotics and pain medications are administered.

  • Some dogfights result in shock. For these patients, intravenous fluids and life saving treatments are necessary before other injuries are treated.

  • Extensive bleeding is stopped by use of pressure wraps. Some bleeding is so severe or cannot be treated with a pressure wrap and emergency surgery is necessary.

  • Skin wounds are treated similar as lacerations. Dead tissue is removed. A drain may be placed if there is sufficient underlying damage and fluid accumulation is expected. The edges of the wounds are then sutured. For extensive skin wounds, eventual skin grafts may be required.

  • Chest injuries may require oxygen supplementation. In severe cases such as penetrating chest wounds, emergency surgery is essential.

  • Facial and head injuries may require medications to reduce brain swelling such as mannitol.

  • Abdominal damage may require surgery to repair internal damage. A ruptured spleen or kidney may need to be surgically removed. Bleeding into the abdomen is initially treated with abdominal wrapping and bandages. Abdominal hernias are repaired surgically. Intestinal ruptures or perforations are repaired by suturing the wounds or removing the damaged pieces of intestine.

  • Fractured bones may heal if bandaged or placed in a cast. Some will require surgical repair.

    Follow-up

    After initial treatment of dogfight injuries, patients must be continually monitored. All medications must be given as prescribed. Immediately inform your veterinarian if you are having trouble medicating your pet. Improper or lack of home care is the primary cause of treatment failure.

    If your pet is bandaged, make sure the bandages are kept clean and dry.

    Repeated veterinary exams are essential to make sure your pet is continuing to recover. If infection occurs, bacterial cultures may be submitted for analysis. Based on these results, a different antibiotic may be prescribed.

    In the warm months of the year, it is essential that you keep your pet clean and in a fly free area. Maggots can develop in poorly healing skin wounds.

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