What Should You Do if You Get Bit by a Dog?

Being bitten by a dog is no laughing matter. It can leave the victim with a bit of post-traumatic stress and a lingering fear of dogs, or a risky disease. Below is some advice to take to avoid dog bites and mitigate their damage. But first we’ll share some dog bite statistics:

Dog Bite Statistics:

Dogs don’t normally have the urge to bite but will resort to biting people when stressed. The good news is that most dog bites are not serious. According to the Canine Journal over 80% of dog bites do not cause major injury or require an urgent care visit. The people who encounter the most dog bites are:

  • Children between 5 and 12 (account for more than half of all bites)
  • Home service providers like postal carriers and meter readers
  • The elderly

Important dog bite statistics according to Humane Society of the United States and Centers for Disease.

dog bite

Certain breeds are more likely to bite as a reaction to stress. These are

  • Chihuahua
  • Bulldog
  • Pitbull
  • German Shepherd
  • Australian Shepherd
  • Jack Russell

Why Do Dog Bites Happen?

Dogs can have situation-specific reactions to stressful environments. They may bite when they come threatened or scared. A dog may bite in self-defense or in defense of her puppies. Dogs that are startled or not feeling well may lash out. Or, a bite might be unintentional, incurred during play with an object.

Read More: Staph infection in dogs

Preventing Dog Bites

Since approximately most dog bites are preventable, including approximately 70% of dog bites to children, it’s smart to know how to avoid triggering them in the first place. We know that dogs resort to biting when they feel threatened. There are some general rules regarding our own behavior that will help prevent dog bites:

  • Don’t assume an unfamiliar dog is friendly. Ask the owner before attempting to pet a dog.
  • Don’t interfere with a dog that’s eating. The same goes for sleeping or nursing dogs.
  • Must try to avoid eye contact with the dog that you think may turn aggressive.
  • Let a new dog sniff you before taking any steps to petting him.
  • Don’t encourage aggressive play or children to play with a new dog unsupervised.

What to do If You Get Bit by a Dog?

The first thing to do is to assess the bite. Since most bites occur to the hand, make sure your hand and fingers are working properly and you have feeling in the hands. Then address any wounds that have opened the skin. You’ll want to wash the bite with warm, soapy water. Apply an antibiotic cream to the wound and then cover it with a clean, protective bandage.

If the wound is deep, seek medical assessment and care. This is especially important if the dog was acting strangely because there can be a risk of rabies from unknown dogs. You should seek medical care if the wound is serious, for example if you can’t easily stop the bleeding or the site of the wound gets red, swollen, or more painful.

You can expect some redness around the dog bit that should lessen after 24 hours. If it gets redder and inflamed, that’s a sign of infection and you need to seek medical intervention. If you develop a fever after a dog bite, you should also get professional assessment, and perhaps a tetanus shot if you haven’t had one in the past five years.

Reporting the Bite

If you know the dog’s owner, you should let them know about the dog’s biting you and find out if he is current on his rabies vaccination. If it’s a stray dog that has bitten you, you should get follow up care because you will not be able to observe the dog’s behavior to determine he or she has rabies. Rabies in dogs does not always look like a dog foaming at the mouth, so when you don’t know the dog, it’s better to be safe than sorry and get a rabies vaccination.

What are Some Other Medical Risks from Dog Bites?

Besides potentially transferring the very serious rabies virus, dog bites can transfer germs, and as many as 18% of dog bites get infected by bacteria. There are as many as 60 different types of bacteria in a dog’s mouth, and the most serious are below:


This type of bacteria is present approximately half of infected bite wounds. It’s threatening for people with compromised immune systems. Symptoms include swollen glands, difficulty moving, and swelling in the joints.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA

Resistant to some antibiotics, this staph infection can be carried by dogs without them showing symptoms but in people it can cause lung, skin, and urinary tract infections. It can be life-threatening if it spreads to the bloodstream.

Capnocytophaga bacteria resides in a dog’s mouth and do not make the dog sick but can make people who have weakened immune systems ill.

The bottom line: If you get bit by a dog, keep a watchful eye on the site and don’t hesitate to visit the local urgent care facility to be examined further.

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