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Dogs are considered man’s best friend and it is natural to assume that your best friend will not harm you! But it is important to remember that dogs too can feel threatened or become over-excited and knowingly or unknowingly lash out at you or your child in the one way they know best – biting. It is also a fact that children are more vulnerable to dog bites than adults. They are also the most likely to require an inpatient hospital stay or reconstructive surgery in the aftermath of such injuries.
Why Do Dogs Bite Children?
You cannot predict when or why a dog is likely to bite your child. There are some reasons why a dog might bite. They are pack animals, and it is these instincts that determine most of their behaviour. A large number of dog bite incidents involve children under the age of five and dogs who are familiar with them. The following are some reasons why this happens:
- Compared to very young children, some dogs can appear big in terms of size. This can give them a feeling of superiority that can then appear in the form of protectiveness of an object, territory, or a person.
- Small children such as those aged under five, might not know their boundaries when playing with the family dog or a neighbour’s dog. The child might pull the dog’s tail or fur playfully but this can provoke the animal to bite.
- When children get too close to a dog suddenly and startle it, the animal might react by attacking.
- A sick or injured dog might bite.
- When a dog perceives a running child as prey, it can lead to biting.
First Aid for Dog Bites in Kids
If there are no visible marks on the skin such as tearing or punctures, then usually it is not necessary to see a doctor. But, after administering first aid, it is best to seek medical opinion and err on the side of caution. Here is what to do if the family dog bites child:
- Stem the bleeding by using a clean towel to apply pressure to the wound. You can also elevate the injured limb.
- Use soap and water to clean the affected area and then hold it under running water for a while.
- Dab dry and apply an antibiotic ointment.
- Do not apply any dressing and do not get the wound stitched.
Types of Damage Caused By a Dog Attack
Besides the physical pain that your child is likely to endure as a result of being bitten by a dog, there is also bound to be a certain amount of emotional trauma to deal with as well.
Dog bites can be categorized from minor to severe. While minor ones only require a visit to the doctor and basic first aid, severe injuries might even require surgery. This is because severe injuries usually are the ones that occur on the head, neck, and face where the nerves and bones might easily be affected. Reconstructive operations may be required to repair this type of physical damage.
The mental trauma that your child experiences as a result of a dog bite is likely to last a lifetime. This might also change your child’s perception of dogs and even pets forever. Getting your child evaluated for emotional trauma and seeking counselling can help them get through this.
After administering first aid, it is best to seek out a medical opinion irrespective of the severity of the bite to avoid any further complications. The doctor might give your child a tetanus injection, antirabies vaccine and if needed anti-rabies immunoglobulin based on the severity of the bite. The standard schedule for the rabies vaccination is five doses on days 0, 3, 7, 14 and 30. Here day ‘0’ is the day of starting the vaccination. A regimen of five 1 ml doses of rabies vaccines should be given IM to previously unvaccinated persons. The first dose of this 5-dose course should be administered as soon as possible after the exposure. This date is then considered as day 0 of the series of post-exposure prophylaxis. The additional doses should then be administered on the days 3, 7, 14, and 28 after the first vaccination. The doctor will also prescribe antibiotics to prevent or control infection. A plastic surgeon will be called in if the injuries need reconstructive surgery, especially when it is the face or neck.
Risks Associated With Rabies
In India, as rabies is widespread in a large population of dogs and cats, it is compulsory to start treatment and keep the biting dog/cat under 10 days of observation.
Here are some simple tips that can help you keep your child safe from dog bites and attacks.
- When choosing a pet dog, go for a breed that is known for its gentle nature.
- Never leave your child unsupervised around a dog; even if it is the family pet that has been with you for long.
- Avoid displays of affection that involve hugging and kissing or something similar that can put your face too close to the dog.
- Do not approach a dog feeding her puppies.
- Teach your child to deal with aggressive dogs. Tell them to stand still and look down if the dog seems unfriendly.
- Make sure your children know not to tease dogs by snatching their toys or treats.
- Dogs must not be disturbed when they are eating or sleeping.
- Instruct your children to avoid unknown dogs and not to try and pet them.
- Teach your family dog that good things happen when children are nearby.
- Provide your dog with a child-free zone as a space to retreat to such as a kennel or a partitioned enclosure.
- Encourage gentle behaviour towards dogs in your child.
- If the dog is with its owner, always seek the owner’s permission before approaching the dog.
- Tell kids that the dog will play with them only as long as it wants to and when it walks away, it means he has had enough for the time being.
- Be sure to keep an eye on any new strays that wander into your neighbourhood and report them to the appropriate authorities.
Do not panic if your child is the victim of a dog bite. Administer first aid and then take your child to the nearest hospital or your doctor’s office for further evaluation.
This information is just a guide and not a substitute for medical advice from a qualified professional.
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