Dog Bites: Ligament and Muscle Damage

Last updated Friday, March 24th, 2023


Little Fido is awfully adorable so really, how can anyone not want to give that Good Boy a nice scratch and a pet? This has been the split second thought process for about 4.5 million people each year, most of which are children that unfortunately became the victim of a Fido temper tantrum. In the majority of cases, dogs bite because they are afraid, hurt, or feel threatened.

Dog bites can be extremely serious or worse, even deadly. Dogs have strong muscles in their mouths and necks and can put a lot of force and power into a bite. They also have sharp teeth that have the potential to puncture deeply. When they clamp down and shake their head and neck, the injury can become far worse quickly.


Dog Bite Injury Infographic. Dog bites can seriously hamper the ligaments

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As a carnivore, their anatomy requires their mouths to have strength and sharpness to eat and survive. This is less of a requirement for domesticated dogs, of course, but they still have the anatomy of a carnivore that needs to hunt for food.

There are also times when a bite is really more of a warning, one that doesn’t include the dog’s teeth coming in contact with the human. Since they aren’t able to communicate with words, these bite warnings are a way for a dog to tell the person that they are afraid and to want to get away.

Luckily, most dogs aren’t aggressive and don’t bite people. There are over 49 million dogs in the US, with the vast majority of them being excellent family pets. Let’s face it, dogs are called “Man’s best friend” for a reason… most are loving and want nothing more than to please humans.

However, another common quality of dogs is loyalty. While most dogs are gentle, all of them aren’t, especially if they feel that someone has come too close to them or their master. Sometimes, they react simply out of fear or protection.

Yet, on the other side of the fence (no pun intended), some dogs are still being trained to be aggressive for various reasons, such as security or dog fighting. As much as we don’t want to think about that, it is the sad truth and the worst case scenario.

Why Children are Likely Victims of Dog Bites?

The majority of dog bites happen to children rather than adults. Why is that? There are several reasons that could account for this:

  • Children are smaller in size and are less likely to be able to defend themselves or get away from a dog that may be on the edge of aggression
  • Children tend to be more rambunctious and loud than adults, which can make some dogs uncomfortable or even make them feel threatened
  • Children are, as a rule, more trusting than adults and may be less aware of when they may be in danger
  • Children are less in tune with dog behavior and may not recognize signs of aggression exhibited by dogs
  • Rough play and kids go hand-and-hand, but the dog may not recognize the rough play as just that… play and not fighting
  • A child may unintentionally hurt the dog, even though they don’t mean to. This is especially common with crawlers or toddlers… the child really doesn’t understand that it hurts Fido to pull his tail

What Happens to Ligaments and Muscles After a Dog Bite?

A less severe dog bite can involve puncture wounds and lacerations to the skin. These bites can definitely hurt a human by puncturing the skin, but the damage can be even more dangerous if the dog damages other tissues, especially nerves.

Damage that affects more than the skin can happen to the site of the dog bite or beyond if the dog also shakes it head while biting. This motion can stretch or snap ligaments or tendons, puncture and tear through muscles, or even crush bones. Bites that include the tearing or stretching of tissues or the crushing of bones are a very serious situation that can result in serious damage, either short-term or permanently.

Bites that cause nerve damage are especially serious and can change a person’s life. When nerves are damaged, there is always the possibility that the nerves may never heal and recover. Nerve damage can leave someone permanently disabled. It can cause a permanent state of numbness or pain, to the point of having to resort to amputation.

Symptoms of a Dog Bite Infection

When a dog bites, their sharp teeth and strong jaw can cause the skin to rip and create a broken, irregular wound. Infection is a serious concern with bites from dogs because the bacteria from the animal’s mouth can get into the human body.

Some symptoms to be aware of include:

  • Pain or tenderness at the site of the bite
  • Stiffness or limited movement in the bite area
  • Redness, swelling and warmth from the wound
  • Flu-like symptoms such as fever, vomiting, diarrhea, or pain in the stomach
  • Pus that oozes from the bite location
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Red streaks that come from the wound
  • Numbness or loss of sensation around the bite site

All infections have the capability of being serious, but some of the typical infections caused by dog bites include:

  • Streptococcus – Typically known as strep infections, strep can cause pain and redness at the site of the bite. An antibiotic is often administered and are quite effective in treating the infection.
  • Staphylococcus – Typically know as a staph infection, this type of infection has the same symptoms and treatments as strep infections.
  • Pasteurella multocida – An infection most often carried in dogs or cats mouths. This infection is the most common cause of soft tissue infection in humans after being bitten, causing redness and pain that can get worse if untreated.
  • MRSA – A particular type of staph infection that resists certain antibiotics. MRSA infections can be severe and difficult to treat, especially in the skin, bloodstream, or urinary tract.
  • Tetanus – Tetanus does not always appear after a dog bite but it’s still very important to receive a tetanus vaccination, especially if it has been more than 5 years since your last tetanus shot. Untreated tetanus infections may cause muscle stiffness, cramping, or even paralysis.
  • Rabies – Although rare, it is possible to get rabies from an infected dog after receiving a bite. Rabies affects the brain and is usually fatal once symptoms appear in a human.
  • Capnocytophaga – A difficult to treat infection spread through the saliva of dogs or cats, causing flu-like symptoms, muscle or joint pain, redness, or even headaches.
  • Other infections

How do Doctors Treat a Dog Bite?

If a bite has broken the skin, there is the possibility of an infection or injury to the bite area, and a trip to the doctor’s office is strongly advised. The medical staff will examine the injury and stop any bleeding that is present. They will thoroughly clean the site of the bite and apply an antibiotic ointment and cover the wound to protect it.

They will want to know some information on the dog itself, such as if it is up to date on its vaccinations and if it showed any signs of rabies.

Often a doctor will give a tetanus shot if it has been a while since the last time one was administered. If there is any worry about rabies, the victim will most likely be transferred to a hospital for observation and the animal will be located if possible for testing. It is important to get a series of rabies shots if there is even a small possibility of the animal having the rabies virus, as it is usually fatal without treatment.

How Does a Dog Bite Impact a Victim’s Life?

A victim of a dog attack may have both physical and emotional symptoms that can last a lifetime. Luckily, most dog bites are relatively minor physically and can be treated easily. A more severe bite or attack can lead to stitches, surgery, or long-term treatment. A very severe bite can impact the victim for the rest of their life and cause permanent damage, amputation, or even death.

It is also important to note the psychological impact of a dog bite. Often there is a lot of trauma for the victim and trauma doesn’t always just “go away.”

Some people suffer a lifetime of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), where they are unable to be near the type of animal that hurt them. Many people become afraid of dogs in general after they have been hurt and are never able to be comfortable around them.

Children are especially vulnerable to emotional damage from a traumatic experience like a dog attack. There have been many cases of nightmares, bed-wetting, withdrawal, fear, and even irrational thinking, to name a few.

Because of the emotional trauma from an emotional experience, the doctoring process may need to be treated long after the physical wounds have healed. A professional therapist may be imperative to the healing process of the victim.

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