Going To The Dogs

This week’s guest columnist is Dr. Alicia Ortiz, a Family Practice resident at the University Hospital and Clinics here in Lafayette.

Every case is different.  Sometimes it’s a puppy playing with a toddler, a lick-fest gone wrong.  Once it was a mother of a litter protecting her young from potential buyers.  We see lots of dog bites in the Pediatric Emergency Department, and they generally come in two flavors.  The first is toddlers getting too close, and geting bitten in the face or hand.  Older kids get bitten in the legs and butt as they run away from loose neighborhood dogs.  Almost a million people visit ERs per year for dog bites.  Sometimes dogs can kill. How can you keep your kids from being Rover’s next victim?

Data suggests that certain dog breeds make better family pets than others.  Poodles and retrievers tend to be safer than terriers, shepherds, and guard-dog breeds. When picking a dog, be sure it’s young, preferably under four months.  Puppies are easier to train, and to acclimate to your kids.  If they do bite, they do less damage.  Older dogs, particularly rescues, can be unpredictable towards kids, and cause worse wounds.  Spay/neuter new dogs- this makes them less aggressive.

“Humanizing” pets has become more prevalent with social media.  People love videos of dogs in costumes, seeming to “talk” to their owners.  And everyone loves seeing laughing babies flop around with a litter of tail-wagging puppies.  Unfortunately,  humanizing encourages dogs in a family to think they’re more important than they are.  Sleeping in bed with family members, feeding from the table, hugging and kissing, generally treating the dog as a child, doesn’t teach the dog it’s place- that the kids outrank it.  You should be the alpha, kids the beta, and dogs last in your family’s “pack” hierarchy.

Having dogs with little kids isn’t great either.  Young kids, instead of running around screaming with the dogs, hyping them up, should be more restrained.  They shouldn’t  pet or get face-to-face with new or unfamiliar dogs.  Trying to train little kids and new dogs simultaneously is just too much- it’s hard enough to get kids to behave by themselves!

The two-year old was best friends with the puppy.  They napped together, played together, watched cartoons together.  Then one second they were tugging on a rope, the next the boy came running to his parents screaming, his face covered in blood.

As we said above, toddlers typically get bitten in the face, since their faces are at dog level, and toddlers get too close while inspecting, hugging, or kissing the dog.  The other popular injury sites are limbs, in the hands when petting a wary pooch, or in the legs and butt while running from a neighborhood dog.

When kids come to the ER, we copiously wash out the wound to reduce the risk of infection, and assess it.  The first question: are stitches needed, like for disfiguring face bites, or gaping wounds elsewhere. Sometimes the wound is so bad that it will leave an ugly scar, no matter how skilled the ED doctor or plastic surgeon.  We don’t sew simple punctures- these heal with small scars, and suturing bites runs the risk of trapping infection inside.

Infection is the next determination.  Kids should be vaccinated, because dog bites can cause tetanus.  Dog mouths can also contaminate wounds with bacteria, so bites that break the skin need antibiotics.  We also worry about rabies.  Wounds through the skin warrant calling Animal Control. The Animal Control officer assesses the dog for rabies risk.  Even if pooch is vaccinated, or is mostly indoors, rabies is still possible.  When dogs go outside to potty, they can get bitten by rabid animals like bats or skunks, and you won’t know it.  And dog rabies vaccine isn’t 100% protective.

We don’t mess with rabies.  If there’s any risk to the child, like being bitten by a stray animal that can’t be found and assessed, we start the kid on rabies vaccine.  Because if a human contracts rabies, it’s 100% fatal. 

Yes, dogs are furry and cute.  Kids love them, and dogs and humans have been  companions for thousands of years.  But make an informed decision when getting a dog: choose the safest breed, and get it when your kids are older.  Aren’t baby humans more important than pooches?

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