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What To Do If Your Dog Gets Bitten By Another Dog

<p>Erin Kobayashi</p>

It happens in an instant. Snarl. Snap. Cry. And your best friend is hurting.

Cue the panic. Baby's hurt.

The dog park crowd gathers round.

And then what? Well, in most cases of dogs hurting other dogs, two types of owners emerge.

As chief field supervisor at Multnomah County Animal Services in Oregon, Randall Brown has seen them both. He's attended scenes where a dog has been nicked, scratched, even outright killed by another dog.

And in the end, it's always come down to those two types of people.

"We have people who stand around and say, 'My dog caused damage to your dog and they feel responsible for it. Here's my information. Or I'll go to the vet with you. I'll cover your vet bills.'"

"We have people who do that," he told The Dodo. "And we have people whose dog bites another dog and they walk away from it."

In the end, he says, outside of a civil lawsuit to try to recoup medical bills, there's not much anyone can do when the unthinkable happens.

Are there any laws that obligate people to stand around after a dog-on-dog bite and surrender their personal information - kind of like exchanging insurance details after an accident?

"I haven't heard of that," he says. "I always tell people that if their dog is the one that did the biting, you may want to do a neighborly thing here."

Trouble is, in the wake of a dog fight, establishing blame can be tricky. Murkier still is the extent of a dog's injuries - which makes it even more vital to exchange that information.

"The thing that I tell people up front all the time is that the degree of injury you see on the surface with your own two eyes is often not the full story," Ladan Mohammad-Zadeh, critical care specialist at DoveLewis Animal Hospital in Portland, Oregon, told The Dodo.

Imagine, if you will, a big hairy dog. Your big, beautiful, hairy dog.

"You might see just one little puncture on the side of their face," Mohammad-Zadeh explains. "But you have no idea what's underneath all of that fur - and what's inside that puncture wound."
 

Erin Kobayashi

For one thing, the skin could be separated from the underlying muscle tissue, making it a much more serious wound than it would appear.

Or infection could set in.

A dog's teeth can carry bacteria. And a puncture wound is a good way to get that bacteria under the skin. In the U.S., about one percent of dog bites result in infection to humans, according to the American Society for Surgery to the Hand (ASSH).

With what amounts to an honor system among dog owners to pay vet bills that can easily skyrocket, the focus might be better spent on prevention.

Erin Kobayashi

"One good way to prevent dogs biting dogs is to be cautious when bringing your dog into social settings with other dogs," John Gicking, an emergency and critical care vet with BluePearl Veterinary Partners, told The Dodo. "Dog parks and pet stores bring lots of different dogs together, and you need to carefully monitor these situations for safety."

No matter how cautious an owner may be, dogs are going to disagree from time to time.

Erin Kobayashi

"Dogs get into arguments," Terri Bright, director of Behavior Services at the MSPCA-Angell, told The Dodo. "There are usually signs that dogs are not going to be able to resolve their arguments without aggression."

The problem is many of us don't recognize those signs. Body language is critical. On one hand, "play bows" - when dogs put their paws on the ground and their posteriors in the air - typically suggest good times all around.

On the other hand, stiff movements, tense muscles and placing a paw or head on the other dog's back suggest a different story. "To dogs, those are fighting words," Bright says.

Bree-Anna Macdonell

"If someone's dog does that to every other dog in the dog park, then that dog probably shouldn't be in the dog park. That dog, at some point, is going to run into another dog who's going to get mad."

"Then there's going to be a dogfight."

Erin Kobayashi

And with that, at least one hurting dog and a visit to a veterinarian that could prove costly.

Then, of course, you will meet one of those two types of dog owners: those who stay and offer to help — and those who hightail it out of there.

If you happen to witness a dog fight, there's a smart way to break it up. Here's what you need to do.