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Your child could suffer emotionally after a dog bite

You and your daughter are out on a walk on a beautiful day in Knoxville and see your neighbors walking their dog. You stop and make small talk and ask if your little one can pet the dog. She loves dogs.

"Of course," your neighbor replies.

Your daughter reaches for the dog, but the dog has other ideas and bites your little girl on the arm. It looks pretty bad. You whisk her in your arms, put her in the car and take her to the emergency room.

Doctors treat her wound and advise you on how to care for it -- but neither you nor the doctors realize what the long term effects of the injury are really going to be like.

It isn't uncommon for children to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after being bitten by a dog. Some child psychiatrists recommend having children evaluated to see if counseling for trauma could help.

Even if an assessment doesn't indicate that counseling would be helpful, that doesn't mean you shouldn't talk about it. PTSD that goes untreated can lead to behavioral problems, social withdrawal, nightmares or other emotional issues.

When you discuss the dog bite with your child, don't editorialize about the incident. Simply tell your child you are sorry she was hurt. Tell her you recognize she is upset and you are glad she is sharing what she is feeling.

But if the tears and fears persist, what should you do?

There are signs you can watch for that indicate PTSD is an issue. Look for trouble at school, both in terms of academic success and relationships with friends. Is she reluctant to talk about the dog bite? Is she now afraid of dogs and avoids them, or other animals? Is she anxious?

All of those things could be signs that you need to bring in a mental health professional. Ask your pediatrician for a referral to a therapist who works with children.

It's easy to see when a child's physical wounds from an animal bite have healed. It's harder to judge the mental wounds. And the treatment provided by both the hospital and mental-health providers can be expensive. A personal injury attorney can help you try to recoup your expenses so you can get the medical care your child needs.

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