If you own a dog or a cat, you’re probably not expecting that your furry pal will bite or scratch you or a family member. Unfortunately, things happen and your totally harmless pal may end up wounding you or someone.
This is something that I unfortunately had to go through last week, when I attempted to get in the way of two quarrelling dogs and ended up getting bitten in the arm. (Yes, after more than half a century of living with dogs, this still happened to me.)
Although the wound was rather deep, I was not too worried since my dogs are up to date in their vaccinations, and are indoor dogs who are never in contact with any unknown animals. All I was worried about was the possibility that my wound would get infected (which usually happens to me), especially since I have not had a tetanus shot since childhood.
Since I was not ready to go to a tertiary hospital, I decided to go to an animal bite center nearby. I was thinking I would get a single shot, and would be able to hop off easily.
That’s not what happened. The nurse noted that I had category 3 wounds, given the number and size of the bites. Since I had poured Betadine on the wounds and refused to look at my arm, I did not realize that there were several wounds.
As it turns out, there is a protocol to be followed for category 3 animal bites. This consists of the following:
- An anti-tetanus toxoid shot
- Anti-rabies vaccines (two shots per arm, to be given three times or every three days)
- The equine rabies immunoglobulin (ERIG) to be administered on each wound
Since I had 6 wounds, that meant that on the first day, I got 9 shots – the anti-tetanus shot, the two anti-rabies vaccines, and the 6 ERIG shots on the wounds. These shots all serve different purposes. The anti-rabies vaccines work to contain the virus at the systemic level, but since the immune response is not automatic, there is a need for the ERIG which controls the virus at the site of the wound. The tetanus shot, on the other hand, prevents tetanus which could happen when Clostridium tetani bacteria enters a wound.
I was asked to come back two more times for the administration of the second and third rounds of the anti-rabies vaccine boosters.
Needless to say, that first day was extremely stressful. Getting injections next to your wounds on a bruised arms is downright painful, and the thought of having all those shots in one go could just be overwhelming. I was woozy the rest of the day from all that.
What struck me the most, though, was the conversations I had with the staff at the clinic. They were relieved to know that my dog was up-to-date in his vaccinations – a comforting thought for me. While I thought I no longer needed the anti-rabies jabs, these were still administered to me out of an abundance of caution, especially since the alternative is straight out unacceptable.
The nurse shared her observation that people, in general, do not seem to know how to handle animals. Many parents allow their children to play roughly with animals, explaining the big number of children who get bitten in the head.
I also learned that the summer heat makes dogs and cats more irritable and less patient with those who handle them inappropriately. The nurse said that the number of the cases at the clinic has increased dramatically since the pandemic started since children are cooped up in the house, giving them more opportunities to handle their pets inappropriately. Cat scratches and bites are also very common, accounting for half of all cases they see. The problem with cats is that very few felines in the Philippines have received anti-rabies shots, compared to dogs.
Stupid people like me who stop pet fights are less common among their patients, but these are usually the ones who get bad bites. (I know, I know…)
What really saddened me, though, were the nurses’ stories of actual rabies cases that they have seen right in Metro Manila. It is disheartening to know that in this day and age, when the anti-rabies vaccine for dogs and cats is widely available, there are still people dying because of rabies.
I have since completed my anti-rabies booster shots, but more than the inconveniences and the pain, I will not forget the lessons I learned from this experience.
Whether you are a first-time owner or an old geezer like me, be careful! Try not to put your furry pal in a stressful situation that could unleash the animal in him. Keep an eye on your kids. Always keep your pets’s shots updated and in the event that you are bitten or scratched, especially by a stray dog, make sure to seek professional help.