Each year 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs, and 20 percent of them require medical attention.1 Dogs bite for many reasons—protection, fear, and over-excitement, to name a few. Whether the animal bites a child or an adult and … contact involves a nip or a serious attack, it’s important to know what to do following a bite, how to treat wounds and when to seek medical attention.
First and foremost, if the attack is serious or life-threatening, perform first aid and call 911 before you do anything else.
If someone else’s dog bites you or one of your family members, be sure to get the owner’s contact information and ask for proof of rabies vaccination. If dog is a stray, contact animal control or your local health department. When authorities locate the animal, they may test it for rabies or track down the owner to verify its vaccination history. You may want to document details of the incident and take pictures of the injuries.
Tend to injuries
If there is bleeding, cover the bite with a clean towel and, if possible, elevate the injured area to stop the bleeding. Clean the wound with soap and water. Then, apply antibiotic ointment to it and cover it with a sterile bandage. To prevent infection, continue to treat the area with antibiotic ointment and cover with a fresh bandage each day.
Look for signs of infection
Dog bites run the risk of infection due to bacteria transferred from the animal’s mouth. Such infections can be serious and even deadly when left untreated.
- Symptoms of infection may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Increased pain or loss of sensation to the wound site
- Limited mobility in a bitten finger or hand
- Redness streaks near the bite
- Swelling near the bite
- Fluid or puss leaking from the bite
- Fever and shivers/chills
- Swollen lymph nodes
If you notice any of these symptoms or have concerns about infection, seek immediate medical attention.
See a doctor
The majority of dog bites will not require medical attention; however, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 20 percent do.2 Sometimes it will be clear a dog bite victim needs immediate care. Other times, it may require a judgement call.
When in doubt, take yourself or the bite victim to the emergency room or urgent care, or schedule a doctor appointment, as appropriate for the situation. As KidsHealth.org points out, on the surface a dog bite may seem minor, but there can be deeper injuries.3 Doctors can examine bites for such damage. Furthermore, bites may require stitches, additional cleaning, tissue removal, the prescription of antibiotics, and followup medical appointments. If you haven’t had a tetanus shot in the past five years, you may need a booster.
Educate yourself, your kids
Learn how to prevent dog bites and teach children how to interact safely with dogs. Doggonesafe.com, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the ASPCA are great starting points.
Be sure to discuss concerns about dog bites with your healthcare provider, legal professional and veterinarian, as appropriate.
1American Veterinary Medical Association. Infographic: Dog Bites by the Numbers. N.D. https://www.avma.org/Events/pethealth/Pages/Infographic-Dog-Bites-Numbers.aspx
2American Veterinary Medical Association. Infographic: Dog Bites by the Numbers. N.D. https://www.avma.org/Events/pethealth/Pages/Infographic-Dog-Bites-Numbers.aspx
3KidsHealth.org. “Preventing Dog Bites.” Last reviewed by Yamini Durani, MD, Jan. 2012. FamilyDoctor.org. “Cat and Dog Bites.” http://kidshealth.org/parent/firstaid_safe/home/dog_bites.html
American Veterinary Medical Association. “Dog Bite Emergencies.” N.D. https://www.avma.org/public/Pages/Dog-bite-emergencies.aspx
FamilyDoctor.org. “Cat and Dog Bites.” Last updated April 2014. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/prevention-wellness/staying-healthy/pets-animals/cat-and-dog-bites.html
Gabbey, Amber Erickson. “Animal Bite Infections.” May 21, 2014. Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on May 21, 2014. http://www.healthline.com/health/animal-bite-infections
WebMD. “Dog Bites.” N.D. http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/dog-bites