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Preventing animal bites
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Animal Matters

Preventing animal bites

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Most of us humans would like to put the year 2020 behind us. For our pets, 2020 was a year they will never forget. Their owners were home all the time, they got to take many walks throughout the day and they became internet sensations during Zoom meetings. As we all know, our pets have emotions just like the rest of us. Even though us being home with our pets has brought them joy, let's be honest: at times our pets were probably annoyed with all the selfies and silly outfits we made them wear. Imagine spending every waking minute with your partner. At some point they will get on your nerves.

This brings us to the observed correlation we have discovered over the past few months at Animal Services. In Burke County, we have seen a 300% increase in the number of bite cases we have had to investigate. We believe this may be due to us spending more time at home loving and, perhaps, annoying our pets.

No one wants to be bitten by their very own cat or dog. Once an animal has bitten, even if they are current on their rabies vaccine, they must be quarantined for 10 days. In some instances, owners decide they no longer want their pet, and they end up surrendering them to the shelter. This bite history follows this pet forever. It does not matter if the bite was provoked or unprovoked, it can make it difficult to rehome the animal and sometimes ends in euthanasia.

Based on the investigations we have conducted, most of these bites are completely preventable and were usually provoked by the victim. So, let us discuss how animals communicate. Animals cannot speak to us. It is up to us to read their body language to anticipate their next move. In most cases, animals are showing stress signals before the bite occurs. This may include lip licking, avoiding eye contact, and yawning. These normally take place before an animal starts to growl or bite. It is important as a pet owner or someone who is around animals during their daily routine (postal workers, delivery drivers, for example) to educate themselves on animal behavior, to increase their own safety as well as that of the animal.

Below are tips to help your pet cope with being stuck at home with family 24 hours a day.

* Make sure your pet has a safe pace of their own. This should be a place like a crate or a room where they can decompress. If a pet is in their space, they should be left alone.

* If you are having company over, consider keeping your pets separate unless the pet is comfortable with strangers.

* Allow your pets ample time to exercise their bodies and their brains. This could include long walks or enrichment puzzle toys to keep them occupied.

* Teach your children how to respect animals and what signals to look for when a cat or dog is stressed. Never leave your young children unattended with your pets.

* Make a point to research appropriate body language. Learn signals of escalating stress.

* Do not try and pet stray animals. If you see a healthy stray animal, let it be and hopefully it will find its way back to its family. If you see the animal more than once or they are sick or injured, please call Animal Services for assistance.

* Keep your pets up if you are expecting a delivery or have a safe place designated for the delivery driver to place the package.

* Make sure your pet is current on all vaccinations including their rabies vaccine. Rabies vaccines are mandatory for all cats, dogs, and ferrets over 4 months of age.

* Keep in mind that as pets age, like us, they can develop soreness from arthritis and other body stresses. When animals experience pain, it is a natural response to want to bite, snap at, or scratch whatever is causing the pain. If you feel your pet is not as chipper as it used to be and you feel they may be in pain, consult with your veterinarian.

Remember, we are all in this together. This knowledge can help prevent bites and heartache for you and your pets.

Kaitlin Settlemyre, RVT, is the Burke County Animal Services director.

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