Is a Cat Bite Worse than a Dog Bite?

May 14, 2014

The feline dental arcade on the left shows the sharp fangs responsible for serious injury from cat bites. The photo on the right shows the blunter, less tapered fangs of a dog.

cat and dog teeth

Feline and canine teeth

May 18-24 is Dog Bite Prevention Week. Once again the cat is ignored, possibly since cat bites are less common than dog bites. But cat bites are a serious problem and should not be disregarded. In New York City, 17% of animal bites injuries seen in emergency rooms are from cats and over 70% from dogs.

Animal bites are a significant public health issue. Every year 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs and 150,000 of these people require medical attention. Children ages five to nine and males, regardless of age, are more commonly involved in dog bite incidents than adults and females. Dog bite injuries to children less than four years of age typically involve a bite to the head.

Cats, being a completely different beast than dogs, cause different types of bite injuries than dogs do. Dog bites may look worse, because their teeth are larger, but the slender, sharp fangs of a cat penetrate deeply into the tissues. Cat bites are more likely to introduce bacteria deep into the wound, causing serious infection and damage to tendons and ligaments. In a recent Mayo Clinic study, one third of patients bitten on the hand by a cat were hospitalized and two thirds of those patients needed surgery to treat the bite injury. Middle-aged women were the most common victims of cat bites to the hand.

Because children love dogs, teaching them safe behavior around dogs is important. Using common sense and a little practice of appropriate behavior around dogs, children can safely interact with dogs. This Saturday, May 17th, The Animal Medical Center is hosting PAW Day, its annual pet health fair for families and their pets, from 10:00am – 1:00pm in Carl Schurz Park at 84th Street and East End Avenue, where your child can practice interacting with dogs. This free community awareness event will include a children’s area with Clifford the Big Red Dog, face painting, pet safety information, a stuffed animal vet clinic and much more!


PAW Day banner

Pet and Wellness Fun this Saturday, May 18, 2013

May 16, 2013

PAW-DayLooking for a fun, outdoor activity for the whole family this weekend? Join us at The AMC’s Annual PAW (Pet and Wellness) Day celebration in Carl Schurz Park (84th Street and East End Avenue, 10am – 1pm), where every family member, including the furry ones, will find special activities designed just for them.

Doggy massages and more
Members of The AMC’s Tina Santi Flaherty Rehabilitation & Fitness Service will teach two sessions on how to relax your dog with yoga and massage. Veterinary staff from The AMC will provide free screenings for canine high blood pressure (hypertension), tooth brushing lessons, obesity assessment and many other hands-on health activities.

There will also be two sessions entitled, “Pet First Aid for the Pet Owner,” presented by one of The AMC’s board certified emergency and critical care veterinarians. Other specialist veterinarians from The AMC will be on hand to answer questions about pet health and disease. They will distribute pamphlets and fliers as well as free samples of treats and pet products.

Kid’s stuff
This year, PAW Day will feature a dog well known to children – Clifford, the Big Red Dog, from the PBS series of the same name. Another PAW Day highlight for children will be the stuffed animal veterinary clinic. Children may bring their favorite stuffed animal for a veterinary examination and treatment or adopt an animal at the event. Children attending PAW Day can also purchase a veterinary kit and receive instruction on examination techniques by the highly trained AMC veterinarians.

Over 400,000 children receive medical treatment each year for dog bite injuries. Since children are the most common victims of dog bites, every parent should be concerned with teaching their child how to safely interact with dogs. Children attending PAW Day can practice the four steps of being safe around dogs with friendly dog volunteers who will be on-hand. If children are shy around dogs, they can still learn about safe interactions with dogs at the coloring book station, which will be in a dog free zone.

PAW Day is free and open to the public, so stop by and say hello to your favorite AMC veterinarian! Check out The AMC’s website for additional information about the event: 

Your Child and Animals: Advice to Parents

October 22, 2012

As parents, we want to raise children who have a reverence for all living things, and what better way to educate them about animals than to spend a day at a petting zoo, a country fair, or a natural science museum featuring live animal displays? Animal events are fun and educational for the entire family, but before you attend an animal event, your children need a bit of advance preparation to protect themselves. Animals in public setting have been associated with some preventable health issues such as infection, injury, and allergic reactions.

Infection connection

Rodents, reptiles, livestock, pocket pets, and even wild mammals visit schools and are displayed at county fairs and science museums. The potential dangers vary from animal to animal. Livestock can carry the bacteria E. coli, which causes gastrointestinal upset in humans. Just last week I read a report of an E. coli outbreak linked to a fair in North Carolina.

Reptiles commonly shed another bacterium causing gastrointestinal upset: Salmonella. This organism is the reason turtles less than 4 inches in size have been banned from sale. Most experts consider turtles appropriate pets for children over five years of age.

Approach animals cautiously

Parents take their children to visit animal displays because they want their children to be comfortable around animals and to appreciate the natural world. Before you go, make sure your child understands if the animals can be touched and, if so, how to approach one safely. If your child is bitten during one of these events, you risk dampening your child’s enthusiasm for animals and simultaneously exposing him to a serious injury or infection.

Even iguanas can cause allergies

If you have a child with animal allergies, check with her allergist about how best to handle an animal visitation. Most children allergic to dogs and cats are likely to be allergic to other furry critters such as guinea pigs, chinchillas, and rodents. Some people even have allergies to iguana scales.

Take home messages

  1. Teach children how to safely interact with an animal before visiting a petting zoo, county fair, or school event featuring animals.
  2. Wash hands after every animal interaction or use hand sanitizer.
  3. Children should not kiss animals or put their hands in their mouth after handling an animal.
  4. Children too young to follow directions about hand washing and keeping their hands out of their mouths should not handle animals in public displays.
  5. Because of the risk of transmitting an infection, hands should be washed after petting animals and before snack time.
  6. Wild animals do not make good pets.

If you are an early childhood educator, guidelines for animals in schools have been developed by the Centers for Disease Control.

Your Child and the Loss of a Pet: Answers to Tough Questions

May 3, 2012

In my last blog I wrote about children and pet loss based on a presentation given at The Animal Medical Center by Dr. David Schonfeld, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician. I recently posed some frequently asked questions about pet loss to him; here’s what he had to say.

Q: I just found out our 15-year-old family cat has a serious medical problem. What should I tell my children?

Begin by telling your children that your cat has a serious illness. In simple terms, appropriate to the children’s developmental level(s), help them understand what is wrong with the cat’s health (e.g., the heart is weak and may not be able to beat for much longer; the cat’s kidney isn’t working, which means he can’t make urine like he needs to in order to keep from getting very sick, etc.). Explain that you are doing what you can to take care of the cat and keep it comfortable, but unfortunately, the veterinarian does not feel she will be able to cure the illness; you are concerned that the cat may die from the sickness.

Remember, very young children have a short time perspective – dying “soon” may mean some time that day. If the illness is such that it will likely limit the lifespan of the cat, but death is not likely to occur within days, weeks, or even months, it’s probably better to say that the cat is seriously ill and may not be able to get over the illness (without suggesting it will likely die from the illness, unless the child asks a question about whether death is possible from the illness).

Some additional points to keep in mind: Children may worry that the illness can spread to them or others in the family – you may wish to reassure them that it isn’t contagious. Children often worry that they did, didn’t do, or should have done something to prevent the illness – explain that there is nothing they did to cause the illness and nothing that they or anyone else can do now to make it get better. They can, though, help to keep the cat comfortable. Share with your children how this news makes you feel (e.g., sad, worried about the cat, etc.) and what you are doing to help cope with those feelings. Once you have provided this information, stop and let your children ask additional questions and react to the information. Take your lead from your children about how to continue the conversation.

Q: Some parents want to replace a dead pet without telling their child the old one has died by substituting a similar pet without the child’s knowledge. Why is this problematic?

Children begin to understand death at a very young age – well before most parents think they do. Replacing a pet without acknowledging the pet’s death may suggest to children that you don’t think they can handle the reality or you are not able or willing to address difficult or sensitive topics with them. Certainly, that’s not a good message for children to hear from their parents. Some children may also become insulted because it suggests that you think their personal connection with their pet was so meaningless that it doesn’t even warrant acknowledgement. If you try to replace a pet too early, children may reject the new pet. They miss their pet – the one they knew and loved. They don’t just miss having any pet. Allow them to experience and express their grief and help them learn how to cope with the distress – it’s unfortunately not going to be the last time in their lives they experience loss or disappointment. But it may be one of the first times you can help them learn the skills to cope with such loss (thereby making them more resilient when faced with loss in the future) and it helps them see you as someone who is there for them when they really need you most. After all, that’s what makes parents really special in children’s lives.

Q: Our family dog died last week and my child seems very sad and is not talking very much about anything. What can I do to help?

Parents should explain what’s happened and what it means and invite children to ask questions and share their feelings. Model sharing some of your feelings and techniques that you have used to cope (e.g., talking with a family member or friend, remembering happy times you spent with the pet when it was alive, looking at pictures, etc.). But as with all invitations, you need to wait for children to accept – you shouldn’t try to force children to speak before they feel ready. Be physically and emotionally present and periodically inquire how the children are doing and make references to the pet in casual conversation. Children will take the opportunity to talk when they are ready, or they may express their thoughts indirectly through play, writing, or in other ways.

For parents coping with a death in the family, either of a pet or a human family member, a free guide (available in English, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese) is available for parents on how to support a grieving child and includes more discussion on how to explain death to a young children – it can be downloaded or you may order free, printed copies.

Photo: iStockphoto

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