Staying Safe Around Pets

Luis A. Castagnini, MD, MPH, Infectious Disease Specialist

Marisol N. Lazarte, DVM, Veterinarian

Jendi Haug, MD, Emergency Services

This pandemic certainly has brought many changes to our lives. We have changed the way we interact with one another. We spend more time at home and many children around the country are adapting to distance learning. We now must wear masks while in public, stay six feet apart and wash our hands at every opportunity. These are all important measures to stay safe from COVID-19 and other infections. However, more time at home also means more time with our beloved four-legged friends. Whether a dog or a cat, many Texas households include a furry member. These longer and more frequent interactions with our pets increase the risk of a bite or a scratch. Since the beginning of the pandemic, The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio emergency departments downtown and at Westover Hills have seen an increased number of children who have experienced dog and cat bites. With this in mind, it is important that all members of the family follow safety measures around pets. This is particularly important for toddlers and school-aged children, as they are the most frequent age groups affected.

9 Tips for Staying Safe Around Pets

You can prevent bites and other injuries from animals by remembering these recommendations:

  1. Never play or bother a pet while it is eating or drinking. This is one of the most common scenarios that lead to an attack.  A child or an adult can suffer a bite during the pet’s eating time.  Given the smaller size of a child, this type of attack is more likely to occur in the upper body, including the face.
  2. Do not interrupt your pet’s sleep.
  3. Do not try to ride on your pet or pull its tail.
  4. If your pet recently had kittens or puppies, do not get near them as the protective instinct of the mother may lead to an attack.
  5. Make sure your pet has all its vaccines.
  6. Kids should be instructed not to pet strange or unfamiliar animals without the expressed consent of the owner. Even then, it is always a good idea to be careful and have an adult directly supervise. Some experts recommend staying away from strange animals or pets altogether.
  7. If you are approaching your pet, talk first so it will know you are coming and will not be surprised. Please always respect pets as you respect people. 
  8. Any sign of aggression (i.e. growling, hissing) or signs the pet might be scared (i.e. tail hiding between the legs, ears pinned back) should be taken as a sign of “alert.” A child should not approach such an animal that is showing signs of aggression or fear.
  9. Never get close to a strange animal that is alone.
Teach your children not to bother pets when they are eating or drinking. Pets can become aggressive if they feel their food may be taken away.

What should you do if you or your child are attacked by an animal?

First, thoroughly wash the wound with soap and water. If the injury is minor, calling your physician may be all that is needed. However, your child might need emergency care if the wound continues to bleed, is large, or involves multiple locations. If the wound is located on the face, hands or if the animal is unknown to the patient, visit the closest emergency department for further management. Some bites, especially from cats, require the use of antibiotics to prevent infection. Others may require stitches and even preventative measures for rabies. Finding out the rabies vaccination status of the animal is important for your child’s health. If this information cannot be determined, please consider contacting Animal Control and seek medical attention. 

What to Expect in the ER by Dr. Jendi Haug

At the emergency room, we will ask about the rabies status of the animal. If this is unknown and Animal Control has not been contacted, we will have you fill out a form that will be sent to Animal Control. We will screen for rabies risk and the need for rabies prevention or observation. Also, we will provide pain control and clean and irrigate the wound. We might start antibiotics depending on the characteristics of the injury and stitches may be needed to close the wound. For complex or extensive wounds, such as wounds that involve the face or hands, a surgical specialist might be consulted to repair the wound in the operating room to reduce scarring.

We can all contribute to staying safe at home while loving our pets. Please always treat animals with kindness and respect.

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