Dogs: why do you have a to bite each other so much? Why can’t you be more like two cats engaging in a disagreement? It’s a spirited, verbose discourse bursting with profanity and often accompanied by some sort of interpretive dance. Physical contact is not an essential feature of the conflict. The two go their separate ways and endeavor never to see each other again, sometimes continuing to exist in two different zones of the house that are as far apart as the dark and light sides of the moon.

Dogs, though. Always tearing each other (and everybody else) to shreds. It’s destructive, painful, noisy, messy. It’s expensive to repair and emotionally traumatic for the witnesses. It’s really a lot of work getting the pieces put back together, both literally and figuratively. We start to figure out how much when you arrive at the hospital with your bleeding pet. Barring any life-threatening injury, she will be carefully inspected for holes. Each and every one is significant, no matter how small it appears, in part because pet skin is very different from ours. A dog or cat’s skin fits her sort of like a baggy sweater fits a human; it’s soft, stretchy, and slides around easily over the body. An adversary armed with a sharp weapon can deal you a stunning amount of damage without really harming the sweater. Likewise, each little hole inflicted in dog or cat skin (by any pointed object, but especially by canine teeth) may be concealing a massive amount of torn tissue. Stitching up the skin, then, is the least of our concerns. The first step in repairing dog fight injuries is determining the location and severity of the carnage beneath those innocuous little holes. The most reliable way to do it is by surgical exploration: each puncture is examined and probed to determine its depth and extent, and then everything is put back together approximately like it used to be. Last of all, the skin is closed with stitches. Even really large gashes can look great right after surgery. That’s the honeymoon phase.

Phase two is often disappointing and almost always tedious. As the days pass, any crush injuries to the skin, invisible at the outset, begin to declare themselves. That means the area gets worse before it gets better. The crushed skin often won’t hold its stitches any more. Areas that initially appeared vigorous may begin to turn purple and then black. Those can be rather sizable and frequently need to be removed by a second surgery—more anesthesia and stitches as the area is revised… more medicine, more lab samples, maybe even a skin graft. Wrapping up one of these dog fight incidents (barring any life-threatening injury) can take weeks to months, eventually adding up to a huge veterinary bill.

Dogs, if you’re out there listening, please take a step back from all the violence. There are better ways to work it out. For your sake, for your owner’s sake, for the sake of all the health professionals that will accompany you down your long, expensive road to recovery… give peace a chance.

Dr. M.S. Regan