We often think of dogs as friendly, loving, gentle pets but some can and will bite you, and it can be a very traumatic experience. Some people think that it’s only dogs they are not familiar with that will bite them such as a stray or a stranger’s dog, but more often than not, people are bitten by a dog they know.
When you or someone you know has been bitten by a dog, it can be extremely upsetting, especially if the dog bite has broken the skin. This may cause some panic and confusion, leaving you unsure what steps you need to take.
Should you be unfortunate enough to have this happen to you or someone you know, this post will talk you through the steps you need to take to treat the dog bite, how to report the incident, and how to take legal action.
How to prevent a dog bite
Dog bites occur more than you would think, but there are things you can do to prevent it from happening.
- Don’t go near dogs you are not familiar with unless the owner says that it is okay
- Avoid leaving children alone with a dog, especially if they are not familiar with it
- If you approach a dog, move slowly and give them time to approach you
- If a dog becomes aggressive, remain calm and slowly move away, avoiding eye contact
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are roughly around 4.7 million dog bites every year in the U.S alone, with one out of every five bites needing medical attention. Not surprisingly, of the dog bite incidents that are reported each year, half of them are children aged 5 and 9.
Why do dogs bite?
Any dog can bite, whether they are a big or small dog, male or female, and whether you are familiar to them or not. Dogs who are friendly and playful can bite someone if they are provoked. There are many reasons why a dog can bite someone but most incidents are due to the dog reacting to a situation.
If a dog finds itself in a stressful situation, it can bite as a way of defending itself or its territory. Dogs may bite if they feel threatened, or if they are trying to protect something. Sometimes dogs will bite if they aren’t feeling well or have an injury and want to be left alone.
Trying to understand why a dog may bite can help prevent it from happening. Always try to socialize your dog with people and other dogs so they feel comfortable and more at ease in certain situations.
How to treat a dog bite
All dog bites are different, some will be worse than others and you may need to seek medical attention if the injury is serious. However, there are some dog bites that can be treated at home with a first aid kit.
Treating a dog bite injury at home
- Stop any bleeding by placing a clean cloth on the affected area.
- Wash the wound carefully and gently with soap and water.
- Apply an antibiotic cream to the dog bite.
- Place a sterile bandage over the wound to stop it getting infected.
- If you notice any change, seek advice from a doctor.
When to seek medical attention for a dog bite
You should seek medical attention within the first eight hours if you have been bitten by a dog. See a doctor if the wound is deep, won’t stop bleeding, if its swollen, or showing redness or pus, as these are signs of infection. The doctor will clean the wound thoroughly to remove any bacteria.
When a dog bites, it can leave behind a bacteria, and if the dog has not been vaccinated it can carry and spread rabies, which is why the wound needs to be treated immediately to avoid it becoming infected.
Those with other health issues such as diabetes, liver disease or a compromised immune system have a greater risk of becoming infected, so regardless of how severe the wound is, be sure to seek medical help if you have one of these conditions.
Some questions a doctor may ask you to help determine your risk of infection:
- Do you know the dog/dog owner?
- Has the dog had up-to-date vaccinations?
- Has the dog had a rabies vaccination?
- Did you provoke the dog?
- Have you had a recent teanus shot?
Factors to take into account
When it comes to treating a dog bite, there are other things you need to take into account, such as if the dog is a stray, whether you know the dog or its owner, if its a puppy, or if its your own dog that has bitten you.
- Bitten by an unknown dog
If you are not familiar with the dog or its owner, you may need to to get a vaccination to protect yourself from contracting a disease like rabies. Do not attempt to catch the dog, you should call animal control or if you don’t have the number, call 911 immediately and they will get in touch with animal control.
To avoid spreading bacteria which can lead to an infection, be sure to clean the injured area and seek medical attention right away. If a rabies vaccination is required, this can cost you around $3,000.
- Bitten by a dog you know
If you have been bitten by a dog you know, or if you know the dog’s owner and they are present, ask if they have proof that the dog has had a recent rabies vaccination. You will need to exchange contact information and if there are any witnesses, ask for their contact details too.
- Bitten by a puppy
A puppy bite is unlikely to be caused by aggression, and more because they are teething or trying show dominance. However, a puppy bite can still hurt even if it is a minor injury like a scratch. Simply clean the affected area with soap and water, and apply an antibiotic cream before covering with a bandage.
- Bitten by your own dog
Being bitten by your own dog is an upsetting scenario but it can happen. Remain calm and follow the steps in treating the wound. You’ll need to think about why your dog bit you, was it accidental or were they showing aggression beforehand?
It’s best that you try to understand why your dog behaved the way they did. They could be in pain and when you got too close they snapped at you. If this is the situation then you should take your dog to a veterinary to find out what is causing them pain.
If your dog is starting to show signs of aggression, you will need to consult a professional dog trainer to work on eliminating this kind of behavior.
Reporting a dog bite to local authorities
If you have been bitten by a dog, it’s important to report this to local authorities regardless of how minor the injury is, to prevent it from happening to someone else. You can contact both the police and animal control to inform them of the incident. This ensures that the necessary steps are taken and that there is a record of the incident, so if the dog does bite another person again, the authorities will know that the dog poses a threat and will deem them as dangerous.
How to take legal action
You can take legal action when you have been bitten by a dog, however, depending where you live, there are different laws surrounding this. You can get in touch with a personal injury lawyer, who can help you understand all the legal complications regarding dog bites.
It’s important that you take photographs of your injuries and note down anything you can remember about the incident such as where it took place, the events leading up to the bite, as well as contact details of any witnesses. You should also document the progression of your wound, if it becomes infected or how long it takes to heal and if any scarring is left. If any of your clothing was torn or bloodstained as a result, take photographs of this too.
When you have provided your lawyer with as much information as possible, they will begin to investigate by looking into the dog’s history, check whether the owner has the correct insurance, and be able to help you with taking action against the dog owner.
Coping with stress after a dog bite
A dog bite incident can be a horrible experience and may leave you feeling anxious around dogs. If you find that you are feeling stressed, there are ways you can deal with it to minimize the stress levels and to ensure that you will still feel comfortable around other dogs.
Although it may take you some time to process the incident, most dogs are generally friendly, loving animals with no intention of harming you. This is worth bearing in mind, to help you feel at ease whenever you are around dogs.