Summer and Animal Bites: A Pediatrician’s Perspective Part II

RattlesnakeLet’s deal with animal bites, much more common in Summer than any other time of year.  Of course the most common types of bites that are for the most part preventable are those due to cats and dogs.  These are the most common animals known to children but they must understand that the cats and dogs in their own homes are different than the stranger animals they may encounter  outside the home. They cannot just assume that these are as friendly as their own pets and just be taught the proper way to approach such animals.  Always from the front and never from behind, and allow the cats or much more frequently dogs to “learn” who they are by first presenting the back of their hand to the animal in a slow  movement.  If the dog seems to back away or puts his ears and tail down, your child should know to back away also. (Here’s a great post by our Kids and Canine’s Expert on how to Recognize a Dog’s Body Language Before Your Child is Bitten

Most dog bites in young children occur on the face and upper body making them far more significant than a bite on the arm or the leg. If a bite occurs from an animal that is unknown to your family and disappears from the scene, or the attack is totally unprovoked, you should bring your child to his/her Doctor for appropriate treatment and information. Because a cat bite is more like an “injection” through the skin because of needle like cat teeth, these tend to be more worrisome and might get infected more frequently than bites from dogs, but severe bites from either need to be seen by a Doctor and can result in permanent scarring, physically and emotionally.

Other bites should be totally avoidable if your child is taught never to approach a wild animal, anywhere!  Remember that certain animals are nocturnal feeders and therefore are seldom seen during the day.  If you see a raccoon or opossum wandering around during the day, stay away, this is not normal behavior and may signal disease in that particular animal (possibly rabies). Snakebites can be a serious problem, but most species of snakes suburban families will encounter are non poisonous, although they can inflict a bite that can them become infected- so again the best preventative is to steer clear of these animals.  Contact with poisonous snakes does occur, however with such activities as hiking, etc.  So hikers and their families should be educated about the likelihood of encountering snakes, bears, and mountain lions, and what to do under those circumstances. This does not mean that children should not take part in these outside activities but with parental guidance these are very important part of your child’s education and affords another active opportunity to enjoy mother nature.

FIRST AID for those encountering the previously mentioned contacts:

For snake bites of any kind, hold the extremity elevated above body level and resist the temptation to place a tourniquet on the extremity or to cut near the area and try to suck out the venom.  These are not only ineffective but can actually make things worse.  Things to do are to:

  • Call 911 and place ice on the extremity if you have it, but remember NO ICE on small extremities; fingers toes, ears, nose, etc.
  • If it is possible (and safe), try to kill the snake and bring with you to ER!!
  • Try to keep your child calm (if you can yourself calm down).

As far as other wild animal bites, if they are large and bleeding heavily, place pressure over the area and hold tight until help arrives. And again if you can (safely) bring the animal carcass with you to ER it would be very helpful.

For smaller animal bites not bleeding very much, rinse well with soap and water and contact your child’s Doctor or local ER.

If you end up going to an ER , call ahead as you drive there to let them know what the problem is.

About the Author

Dr. Joseph Skoloff currently holds positions as Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the Medical Schools of Georgetown, George Washington and the University of Virginia and is a member of the American Medical Association, the American Board of Pediatrics and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Joe believes strongly in the combined power of parent and physician working together for the health of their children. He is an advocate for children everywhere and can be reached at www.twitter.com/drjoeskoloff.

Dr Joe is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

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