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Dog Bite Injury Prevention and Treatment

Common-sense tips to keep you and your family safe.
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    PORTLAND, OR, December 21, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/ -- If you have perused my site or regularly read at my blog, you know that helping the dog bite injury victims recover from their injuries is a major focal point of my Portland personal injury practice.

There are things we know about dog bites that are reflected in the statistics, and there are behavioral characteristics and situations tendencies that we can only observe. Together, they make up the risk of animal attack.

We know that dog bites disproportionately impact small children (ages 5-9), who may not have the appropriate fear level, be able to appreciate the danger or have the ability to look for indicators of an agitated dog.

We know that dog owners are far more likely to be attacked by their own animal than strangers are by someone else's.

We also know, like it or not, that pit bulls are by far the most dangerous breed in the world--statistics like this don't lie.

These are the things I've written about in my blog many times over the years.

But what to do about it? How do you prevent dog bite injuries and what do you do when presented with one?

Preventing Dog Bite Injuries

Step number one in dog bite injury prevention is selecting the right breed. Beyond just staying away from pit bulls, look at the tendencies of the particular breed you are contemplating owning and compare those tendencies to the type of household you have. A more mellow family situation could be appropriate for a more aggressive breed, but a chaotic house dominated by young children (you know what I'm talking about), may not be. Be smart about the dog you bring into your family. Would you have an extraordinarily volatile houseguest over for dinner with you and your children? Would you let them move in?

If you are buying a dog from a breeder, you have the advantage of being able to research the dog's lineage. If you are buying the dog from a rescue shelter, you should take the time to investigate the dog's history. You will likely be surprised how much information your local humane society attempts to gather. If the dog's history is a bit too scary or gives you a bad vibe, trust your instinct and take a pass. That dog may be perfect for some other family, it just may not be right for yours.

Once you have the dog, socialize the dog. Socialized dogs behave better. It's a simple fact. Get the dog around and used to people in safe and mellow settings. Get your dog training. Finding a good veterinarian early can help with not only the help of the dog, but with the behavior. Most vets know good trainers that their clients have had good success with in the past. The money you spend on dog training could pay off in a major way in the future.

When you meet someone else's dog, ask them whether the dog is safe. Go a step further and ask if the dog likes to be petted. Stick your hand out and let the dog sniff your hand before you pet the dog. Only then should you let your child pet the dog. Again, trust your instinct here. If you are getting a weird vibe, tell your child to leave the dog alone.

Beyond petting, it is a good rule of thumb to never let your child actually play or roughhouse at all with another person's dog--call me conservative, but you can also call me safe. Most of the time, it's simply not worth the risk of injury. Respect what the owner tells you about their own dog, nobody knows them as well as their owner, but remember that even their owner can't predict their dog's behavior with 100 percent certainty.

Studies show that one of the most dangerous places to be around dogs is at dog parks. Your dog may love it, and there is little question that that type of exercise is good for your animal, as is the camaraderie of being around another dog. But dogs get riled up at dog parks. Dogs get territorial at dog parks. When dogs get riled up and territorial, dogs get in scuffles. When you see it, be very, very careful in what you do to try and break it up. Countless serious injuries have occurred when an owner is trying to break up a dog fight at a dog park.

And, for the love of god, do not approach a stray dog anywhere without being extraordinarily careful. This may seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how many of these cases I see as a Portland dog bite injury attorney. Stray dogs have often been under extraordinary stress and might be agitated, hungry or both. You don't know whether a stray dog is carrying a disease like rabies or tetanus. Serious, life-changing infections and scarring are all too common in these types of encounters. Better safe than sorry. If in doubt, simply call animal control and let them handle the stray dog. It's what they are there for.

When you approach any dog, approach them with a slow, steady motion, instead of a herky-jerky quick motion. If a dog has been riled up and appears agitated, don't make eye contact and don't run. Remain calm.

You should always leave a dog alone while eating, sleeping or caring for its puppies. These are times when the dog is likely to be startled and feel compelled to defend its turf.

The common thread running through all of these dog attack prevention tips is common sense. Smart and careful behavior is the only thing that ever prevented preventable accidents. Bites by man's best friend are no different.

Treating Dog Attack Injuries
What if you or someone you love has been the victim of a dog bite? 800,000 dog attacks occur every year in the United States and fully 20% of them in any given year result in a trip to the hospital. Tens of thousands of dog bites every year require surgery to reconstruct the victim's skin, muscles, nerves and bones. Immediate and appropriate care can be critical to minimizing the lasting impact of the animal attack injuries. Several medical websites offer great tips on how to deal with bite injuries, and while I'm no doctor, I've summarized some of those tips below. I am a dog attack injury lawyer, not a doctor, and you should not treat this article as a substitute for professional medical treatment. With that obvious disclaimer out of the way, here are some handy tips.

First, get the victim out of the immediate area of the dog. Help clean the surface of the wound if you can do so safely and stop the bleeding if the bite has ruptured the skin. If there is any puncture or laceration at all, absolutely call a medical professional, and do so immediately. If there is pain near the injury site, there may be internal damage even if there is no puncture wound. This is an important point, because patients often focus on the appearance of the wound--the cosmetic appearance--not considering or giving due weight to the potentially serious internal damage.

Medical professionals will tell you that if there is only a minimal abrasion and no serious internal pain, you may be fine just watching the wound and making sure there are no signs of infection like redness, warmth, puffiness or pus-like substances.

Where possible, always make sure and determine what the animal's shot and disease history is. Obviously, if the animal has a disease like rabies or tetanus, you must see a medical professional, and you must do so immediately. Quick action under those circumstances is essential.

If and when you get to the emergency room, the doctors will explore the wound. Dog bites inject bacteria deep into the skin tissue, and most dog bite wounds will get infected on some level. Strep, staph infection and the like are common, and doctors will be trying to identify the risk factors and minimize the impact of potential infection.

The physician may anesthetize the wound area so it can be explored for potential muscle, nerve, blood vessel or other damage. If a rabies shot or something similar is required that will be administered.

The wound will be cleaned, usually with a saline type solution to irrigate out dirt, bacteria and gunk. Once the cleaning is complete, a decision will be made by your medical professional about whether and how to close the skin. Suturing may help with the later scarring but it can increase the risk of infection. This is an issue that bite victims are wise to consider carefully.

Weighing the risk of infection against further scarring is the cost-benefit analysis that the dog bite victim will have to go through with their physician.

Of course, operations and reconstructive surgeries are also a possibility; in fact, they happen more frequently than you might think. This is particularly likely when it comes to dog bites on the face.

Financial Responsibility With Dogs

Dog bite injuries are scary when they happen to you or your children, but they can be financially devastating when they happen to someone else at your house. Be smart. Get insurance that is sufficient to cover the risk of a dog bite injury occurring on your premises. You wouldn't blink if someone told you needed car insurance that covers injuries that you might inflict on others behind the wheel. There is no reason not to have coverage to deal with the financial consequences of injuries inflicted by your dog. Look at your coverage, and ask your insurance agent whether you need more coverage to deal with a potential animal attack.

Remember, every dog is a potential attacker, even if you've never really seen those tendencies. Stay vigilant and take the appropriate steps to prevent injuries. Watch your dog. If the dog is being agitated by a small child, don't laugh it off. Stop it. Dogs are man's best friend, but only when we exercise appropriate safety and injury prevention measures.

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