How to Treat a Dog Bite

By Logan Quirk

Did you know that as many as 4.7 million dog bites are reported in the US every year? Of these, one out of every five requires medical dog bite treatment, according to the Centers for Disease Control. While it’s only natural to assume that either stray or strange dogs are usually the culprits, that’s not the case — more often than not, people are bitten by a dog they know, such as a friend’s dog or the family pet.

Family Dog

Addressing dog bites effectively is paramount to preventing disease or infection. Here, we’ve rounded up the steps you need to take if you get bitten by a dog, as well as first aid measures, prevention, and other important information.

When Dogs Bite

Statistically, over 50 percent of all Americans who suffer dog bites are children aged 5 to 9. Over one million dog bite victims require emergency medical care at hospitals in the US every year. More than a dozen fatalities are reported each year as a result of dog bites — of these, over 50 percent of the victims are children. The incidence of dog bites is also higher with men than women, who typically experience cat bites more often.

Every dog has the potential to bite at one point. Understanding the causes of this aggressive behavior and knowing what signs to look out for can help you prevent getting bitten by a dog in the future.

Why Do Dogs Bite?

Dominance Aggression

Pitbull Dog Bite

Some dogs — such as unneutered males and confident breeds, including Rottweilers, Old English sheepdogs, and chow chows, to name but a few — are naturally inclined towards dominance aggression.

Unfortunately, the dog’s human family are most often the victims. You’ve certainly seen it happen before:

  • Attempt to move a dog off the bed or sofa
  • Step over a dog who’s resting inconveniently in the middle of the room or in the doorway
  • Push down on his rump to ensure compliance with your sit command

All of these actions may cause the dog to erupt in a vocal warning, which is commonly followed by a bite.

Dominance aggression is often rooted in the dog’s belief that he is in charge and that his humans don’t have the status to tell him what to do. Obedience training is necessary to abate the tendency toward aggressive behavior. It’s most effective if started as early as possible.

Fear Aggression

It’s well known that some dogs bite in response to fear of strangers or unfamiliar situations that are perceived as potentially threatening. Dogs raised in a quiet adult household will feel distraught by noisy youngsters. Also, strangers moving towards them might trigger their sense of danger. In both cases, the dog may bark or bite. While there is no particular breed or gender predilection for fear-related aggression, this behavior is very common in dogs who lack early socialization to a variety of people and experiences. Dogs who have experienced traumatic events may also be more inclined to bite than others.

Protection of Valuables

While protection of territory is most common in males of guarding and herding breeds, such as Rottweilers and German shepherds, protection of valuables — such as toys and chewies — is most often seen in Labrador retrievers and cocker spaniels, with females more likely to act aggressively towards anyone who may attempt to interfere with their “belongings.” Sometimes, a dog’s list of valuables may even include their human family members, which can lead them to acts of aggression towards the person they perceive as a potential threat.

Beware of the Dog

Maternal Aggression

It rings true for all mothers, human and canine alike — if they feel their newborns are at risk, they will show signs of protectiveness, often manifested in the form of maternal aggression. During the first weeks following birth, puppies rely on their mama for all they need to survive, including nutrition, warmth, stimulation, and protection. To prevent bites due to maternal aggression, it’s important to be aware of the new mother’s innate need for a safe space, and to limit visitors and human interaction in general during those first couple of weeks.

Pestered Beyond Limits

Aggressive behavior resulting from excessive “pestering” is common in situations where humans — more often than not, children — fail to understand the dog’s need for peace and quiet. Sooner or later, the dog will say “no” — and strike. Fortunately, this can be averted by teaching children to respect their furry friends and to not prompt any aggressive reaction from them.

Signs to Watch Out For

Once you get a better idea of the common triggers that cause dogs to bite, you can avoid these situations. It’s also important to look out for signs that a bite may occur. In addition to vocal warnings, other signs to look out for include ears that are pinned back, fur along their back that stands up, yawning, and freezing in response to a touch or look followed by direct intense eye contact. In some situations, you may also be able to see the whites of their eyes.

At this point, you should step away so as to offer the dog “personal” space — as well as some time to calm down.

Dog Bite First Aid

With most bites, the dog’s teeth will grab, compress, and possibly puncture your tissue, which may result in a jagged wound that should been seen and attended to by a medical professional as soon as possible. If the wound becomes infected, you may require intravenous antibiotics and hospitalization, so it’s important to see a primary care provider within 8 hoursof a dog bite.


First Aid Kit

While dog bites vary in severity, there are a few general first aid measures you can take to treat the wound and reduce the risk of infection.

  1. Stay Safe — Before you start caring for the bite, it’s important to move away from the aggressive dog to prevent further attacks. If the dog’s owner is around, instruct him or her to secure the dog.
  2. Stop the Bleeding — Once you’re safely away from the dog, assess the severity of the bleeding. If there’s little to none, press the wound gently to encourage bleeding and help flush out bacteria. Otherwise, allow the wound to bleed a little before you cover it with a clean towel and apply firm pressure to stop the bleeding. In severe cases, try to keep the area elevated to control the bleeding. If it doesn’t subside considerably or stop altogether after about five minutes, seek emergency help immediately.
  3. Wash the Wound — Minor wounds should be washed with water and mild soap for several minutes to help remove the germs that may cause an infection later on. Use antibacterial soap if available. It might sting once applied to the wound, but it’s a critical prevention step. Make sure to rinse all the soap away to avoid irritation. Washing the wound is a good idea even if the skin doesn’t appear to have been punctured.
  4. Dress It— Cover the wound with a clean, dry sterile dressing. As an extra precaution, apply an over-the-counter antibiotic cream to the wound before covering it. The bandage/dressing should cover the wound snugly, but not excessively so, otherwise it will restrict proper blood circulation and cause discomfort.

Avoid applying iodine, rubbing alcohol, Mercurochrome, or hydrogen peroxide to the wound as they might slow down the healing process.

If the bite has severed a body part such as a finger or ear, wash it with tap water, wrap it in clean tissue, and store it in a plastic bag in which you’ve placed ice so it can be transported to the hospital. In some cases, it may be possible to reattach the severed body part through reconstructive surgery.

Symptoms of an Infected Dog Bite Wound

Statistics suggest that only 15 to 20 percent of dog bites become infected. Usually, puncture wounds, crush injuries, and hand wounds are more at risk of developing an infection compared to simple scratches or tears, which is why it’s important to look out for any symptoms after you’ve successfully attended to your wound. These include:

  • Redness and swelling around the wound
  • Liquid or pus leaking from the wound
  • The wound feels warm and increasingly painful
  • Fever (100.4F and above)
  • Sweats and chills
  • Red streaked extending along the skin from the wound
  • Swollen glands in the chin, neck, armpit, or groin area

If you experience any of the symptoms above, don’t delay seeking medical help.

What to Expect in the Emergency Room

Emergency Room

If you’ve decided to attend your nearest emergency room, it might be helpful to know what to expect. First, the doctor will carefully examine the wound to determine whether the bite has perforated and/or damaged muscles, tendons, bones, or nerves. Then he will clean the bite wound to remove any dirt, bacteria, or foreign objects, such as teeth and dog hair. In more severe cases, if tissues have been very badly damaged, the doctor might also remove them.

Depending on the severity of the wound, sutures might be necessary to close it. However, there is a lot of controversy surrounding this practice — while it’s true that it will help to reduce scarring, it may also increase the risk of infection. The location of the bite wound will likely influence whether or not sutures are necessary. For example, dog bite wounds on the face may be sutured to minimize scarring, while very deep wounds that have caused a great deal of damage to tissues, bones, and other structures may require plastic surgery.

Appropriate measures against infection and disease will also be implemented. While it’s rare for dogs in the US to have rabies, your doctor will likely administer a rabies vaccine — especially if the dog’s health status is unknown or if the dog tested positive for rabies. A tetanus shot might be administered, too. You may also receive antibiotic treatment for seven to 14 days to prevent or treat an existing infection.

Dog Bite Compensation

Never let concerns over finances be your guide for getting appropriate medical care for dog bites. Receiving adequate treatment is essential for your physical and mental health, and any dog bite might put you in a life-threatening situation if left unattended.

Under normal circumstances, the owner of the dog is liable for your medical expenses. This means their home insurance policy should offer compensation for your injury — and it’s your right to pursue it if you choose to. Unfortunately, the process isn’t always straightforward, and you may encounter different obstacles along the way, such as the dog’s owner refusing to provide you with their insurance information. In this case, you may need to get professional help from a specialized dog bite attorney.

If you can’t find the owner of the dog or the dog is a stray, it might be impossible to resolve the situation — in which case you’ll have only your health insurance to rely on. While it might, indeed, cover some of the cost of your dog bite treatment, expect to pay several thousands out-of-pocket. Serious injuries that require extensive hospitalization and surgery can cost hundreds of thousands for treatment. Not to mention the time you’ll likely be off work and not able to earn an income.

Contact Quirk Law Group today to get professional assistance in filing your dog bite injury claim in California. We have been serving the states of California and Nevada since 2012, and have successfully earned a reputation for providing prompt, reliable, and transparent service each and every time. Get in touch with us today to learn more about the injury claim process — our dog bite attorneys are here to defend you and your rights, and to help you get back to your life!

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