When a Pet Bites: Prevention, Care & Causes

By Mary Oquendo

Show of hands: How many of you have been bitten by the pets in your care? I bet most of you, myself included, have raised your hands. But does it have to be that way?

Let’s start with why pets bite. There are predominately five reasons:

  1. We’ve moved a pet into pain. Asking them to sit or stand in a way that makes them uncomfortable, especially for older, arthritic pets, and handling them in a way that causes them pain, although not intentional, are some examples.
  2. The pet is in pain. Pets, especially dogs, are very good at masking their pain. This pet may appear fine, but due to an underlying medical condition, he is in pain.
  3. The pet is anticipating pain. This pet may have recently recovered from a non–grooming, but painful injury or was previously hurt while grooming. He is anticipating a problem.
  4. The pet is fearful or aggressive. Either situation may result in a groomer being bit.
  5. Something triggered the pet to bite. This could be because he/she is in a cage and we are trying to get them out, a particular touch on the body, turning a dryer on, and so forth.

How do we prevent bites?

  1. Start off with a thorough snout to tail assessment at check in to see how the pet deals with being handled and to check for injuries. In addition, it’s a good opportunity to check for gum color. Pale gums are a good indicator of an underlying systemic medical condition. Pay attention to the teeth. We’ve all had toothaches and know how it feels. Pets in later stages of periodontal disease may be in pain. The pet that is giving us a hard time when trying to clip the face may be reacting to pain.
  2. Pay attention to a pet’s range of motion. We may inadvertently move a pet into pain due to arthritis. In addition, assuming a pet’s range of motion is the same as ours may result in pain. And remember that older or sedentary pets may have a reduced range of normal motion.
  3. Debrief groomers and other staff when a bite happens. Understanding how and why it happened can go a long way to preventing future bites.

Dealing with bite wounds

  1. Secure the pet. You don’t need the added stress of this pet harming another or themselves.
  2. Clean out the wound immediately. This is especially important with cat bites. There are all sorts of bacteria on cats’ teeth, and once the wound closes, it seals in bacteria that have the potential to be life threatening. The sooner the wound is addressed, the faster the healing process can begin.
    Note: Contact your medical professional to see if they would prescribe an antibacterial spray to keep in your first aid kit.
  3. Assess whether this wound needs trained medical professionals.
  4. Dress the wound. Use antibiotic cream on a non–stick gauze pad and then wrap with gauze roll. Keep it dry.
  5. Document everything. Take pictures and video if possible.
  6. Address emotional issues surrounding the bite. We all react differently to the same circumstance. Some may be able to shake it off; others cannot do that without help. The more horrific the bite, the more likely the injured party will need such assistance.
  7. Contact your insurance agent.

Who is financially responsible for a pet’s bite?

That will depend on the state in which you live. Your insurance agent can answer that question for you. In most states, the owner is responsible. However, still file with your insurance company as they will pay out faster and go after the insurance company of the pet owner. Know the terms of your insurance policy as it refers to animal bites. Detail in your Terms Of Service what your protocol is so that owners are aware of your policy. But know that state laws will always supersede any Terms Of Service.

If groomers want to reduce the number of bites in our profession, then education and awareness is the route we need to take. However, we do need to be prepared in the event our preparations and precautions are not enough. ✂

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