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The physical effects of the dog bite are obvious. Scratches, stitches, and scars are all visible to the naked eye. Many people assume that once healed, life moves on.
But what we don’t realize is that psychological dog bite injuries can have an even greater disabling effect on young victims for years to come. These internal traumas may mean costly therapy and a lifelong fear of dogs.
Some psychological injuries can cause mental anguish that can affect a child’s personality and last through adulthood. Symptoms such as intrusive memories, avoidance, negative mood swings, guilt, irrational thoughts and fears, recurring nightmares, loss of sleep and memory problems are not uncommon in someone who suffered a dog bite.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
One of many psychological dog bite injuries is post-traumatic stress disorder. For many who have suffered a dog bite or attack, every time they see a dog, they relive the trauma. Like any other event that causes high levels of stress, a dog bite injury can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms include intrusive memories, avoidance, negative mood swings, guilt, irrational thoughts and fears, recurring nightmares, loss of sleep, and memory problems. It is common for dog bites to leave scars and disfiguring blemishes that constantly bring back memories of the attack.
PTSD and child development
Adults and children cope differently with the aftermath of dog bites. Adults tend to talk about their experience following a dog bite attack openly. Children, on the other hand, are more likely to remain silent and bury their feelings following a dog bite. Children also have an innate ability to pick up on emotion, especially those feelings of guilt and sadness often expressed by their parents when the dog attack incident is brought up in conversation. Carrying such a heavy emotional strain can lead to high levels of anxiety, fear, and PTSD.
Studies have shown PTSD at a young age may cause neurological damage. It has been found children with PTSD tend to have an abnormal hippocampus. The hippocampus is the area of the brain associated with memory. A study at Stanford University revealed that children with PTSD performed poorly on memory tests compared to children without PTSD. Brain scans showed that children with PTSD had less electrical activity in the hippocampus, affecting fundamental processes of nervous system development.
It is not unusual for a victim of a dog bite to develop cynophobia, which is the fear of dogs. Someone with cynophobia has persistent and excessive fear while in the presence of a dog. This causes immediate and rising anxiety which could produce panic attacks, trembling and nausea. Having cynophobia may have a drastic effect on how one lives their day to day life. The victim may now be afraid to visit and won’t be able to enjoy time with friends and family who have pets.
Some people are not able to go back outside for a long time after a violent dog attack. The constant fear of leaving one’s house is called Agoraphobia. Dog bite injuries have been known to cause agoraphobia in some victims due to the overwhelming belief that they might encounter a dog in public and suffer another vicious attack.
Struggling with body image issues
More than 28,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery in 2015 as a result of being bitten by dogs. The scarring and visible damage from a dog bite often leave the victim feeling shame and embarrassed. Since facial scars are obvious, those affected may feel self-conscious anytime someone is speaking to them in person. Adults may worry they are no longer attractive to their significant other or that they will not be able to be in a romantic relationship because of their unattractive scars.
Children are not immune to body image issues following a dog bite attack. The height of a child makes them vulnerable to head, neck and facial injuries. These severe injuries require extensive surgery and reconstructive procedures in some cases. Out of all dog bite cases involving children, 75 percent of them will require additional scar revision surgery to improve the overall aesthetic results. Scars can make a child a target of teasing and bullying. These acts may cause a child emotional distress and can drive them to become less social and lack confidence.
Psychological Dog Bite Injuries: The emotional effects in children
It is difficult for children to make sense of a traumatic event which makes it hard for them to regain their sense of security after the attack. As an adult, our minds have matured, but a child’s mind is not yet developed, and mental anguish from a dog bite can affect a child’s personality and last through adulthood.
The size difference between a dog and a child is a lot different than a dog and an adult. Due to most dogs and children being similar in size, the child has to deal with the fear of being overtaken by a larger animal. To better understand a child’s perspective when experiencing a dog attack, as an adult, imagine being attacked by a bear. The memories a child has of the pain they endured from a vicious dog bite will eventually fade, the fear and emotional damage, on the other hand, could last a lifetime.
It is important for adults to be aware of the signs of emotional distress children display following a dog bite including:
- Sleep disturbances
- Clinging to parent
Diseases and Infection from Dog and other Animal Bites
Although psychological dog bite effects are serious, it is important to acknowledge how dangerous what seem like short-term injuries from animal bites can expose any individual to potentially create serious long-term issues for the bitten, like diseases and infections. Most animal bites occur with school-age children, with the face, arms, legs, and hands being the most common areas for animal bites. If an animal bite is left untreated, the wound can be infected.
Cat bites can cause deeper puncture wounds than dog bites and have a high risk of bacterial infection because of the number of bacteria that cats carry in their mouths and can be hard to clean adequately. In addition, exotic bites, such as mice, rats, gerbils, may carry illnesses but rabies may not be a concern. Livestock, such as horses, sheep, and cows, have strong jaws and can cause crushing bite injuries, with the potential risks of tetanus, infections, and rabies.
When diseases and infections occur they can lead to:
- Mobility problems
- Permanent scars
How Should Children Act Around Animals to Avoid a bite?
Although you or your child may not have control over what an animal may do, it is essential to teach children about dog bite prevention and how to be safe around dogs, or other animals. Most dog bites are preventable and there are things that you can do at home and within your community to help prevent them. Teaching your children the role of the animal in your family and how we can relate to them plays an important role in respecting the animal.
Here are a couple of tips to help kids understand the importance of respecting animals and their space:
- Avoid unknown dogs/animals. If the owner is present, you must ask permission from the dog’s guardian first before petting the animal. If allowed, the child must first let the dog sniff their closed hand. If the animal isn’t on a leash, he or she shouldn’t approach the dog and let an adult know immediately.
- Don’t bother a dog or animal when they are eating, sleeping, or chewing on a bone or toy. Animals are more likely to bite if they are startled, frightened, or are tending to their young.
- Teach children to walk away quietly if they’re confronted by an aggressive dog. Instruct them to stand still if a dog goes after them, then take a defensive position. It helps give children the analogy to stand still “like a tree”. If the dog knocks them over, teach the children how to curl up into a ball by covering their head and neck with their arms.
- Don’t expect kids to carry too much of the responsibility for pets too early. As an adult, you should be supervising and checking on pet care responsibilities given to children to ensure they are carried out. As your responsibility, it is your responsibility of supervising the child as he or she interacts with the dog.
How The Carlson Law Firm can help
At The Carlson Law Firm, we have extensive experience in dog bite claims and have been helping dog bite victims for over 40 years. We understand that psychological trauma is just as serious as physical injuries. If a dog owner’s negligence led to your dog bite, you should not be left responsible for paying recovery costs such as expensive therapy. We have a team of attorneys, on-staff nurses, and private investigators ready to fight for the compensation you deserve while you take time to heal both physically and emotionally.
Contact us today for a free case evaluation. We are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week because we care, we can help.