Dogs can act unpredictably when put into new or scary situations. This rule can apply to any dog you meet, whether yours or a stray dog.
If a dog bites you, the most important thing is not to panic. After that, there are a few different steps you can take.
Immediate Steps To Take When Bitten by a Dog
It may be hard to know what to do if a dog bites you, but there are a few vital steps to take immediately. You should get away from the dog and then treat the wound to the best of your abilities while awaiting medical care if necessary.
Get Away From the Dog
It may not be easy to walk away after a dog attack. Ask anyone around you to help, but don’t speak too loudly, as a dog can perceive loud voices as a threat and may attack again. If there is no one around you, you can call the emergency line or contact animal control. If you have a friend nearby, contact them to help.
If the dog is aggressive but hasn’t attacked yet, move away slowly while avoiding eye contact. Don’t try to scare the dog away, as that can provoke an attack. If the dog charges at you or tries to attack while trying to escape, try to put something between you and the dog, like a bag or a jacket, so that they bite that instead of you.
If you’re out for a run and a dog sees you, they may chase you because watching you run triggers their reflexes to chase. In that case, you should stop running and avert your gaze while avoiding facing the dog head-on. If you freeze and stay still for long enough, the dog will likely lose interest and leave you alone.
Dogs don’t typically attack to maul, but if they do and there is no one around, curl into a ball and cover your face and neck. That is your best chance of getting out relatively unscathed.
Get Contact Info from the Owner of the Dog
If the dog that bites you is not your own, do your best to get the contact info of the dog’s owner. You will want this so you can determine if the dog has been properly vaccinated against rabies as well as for any legal action you may possibly take.
Don’t assume that a small bite will only have minor discomfort and consequences. What seems minor know can quickly develop into something major with infection or damaged ligaments, etc.
Treat Your Wounds
Once you are safely away from the dog, you need to examine and treat your wound, either on your own or with a medical care provider. Depending on the severity of the wound and your ability to seek medical attention, you can call an ambulance or have someone take you to see a doctor. Self-treat your wounds while waiting for medical attention.
Preventing blood loss is the most important thing you can do. If you are bleeding, use a jacket or another piece of clothing to put pressure on the wound. Blood loss is a serious threat depending on the severity of the wound. It can lead to shock, which is a life-threatening condition.
Seek Medical Attention
Once the ambulance shows up or you get in to see a doctor, they will patch you up and likely give you a dose of antibiotics for the bite. Your doctor can make sure the dog didn’t cause any serious damage, and if they did, the medical team will treat it there.
How To Tell if a Dog Bite Is Serious and When To Seek Medical Attention
All dog bites have the potential to be very serious. Dogs carry many different bacteria in their mouths and can also have rabies. This bacteria makes any bite that breaks skin a serious bite. Even if a bite doesn’t visibly break the skin, there is still a risk that it introduces dangerous bacteria into your system.
If you have severe bleeding that doesn’t stop or slow with pressure, that makes the dog bite an emergency, and you should not wait to seek medical attention. If the bite breaks the skin, you should also seek medical attention.
Other signs of a serious wound from a dog bite are:
- Extreme pain
- Deep or long wounds
- Mobility problems
- Numbness, tingling, or stinging
- Broken bones
What Is the Risk of Infection?
If bite victims can treat the bite at home because there isn’t much bleeding, they should still watch out for infection. Symptoms of an infection are warmth around the wound, fevers, and pus in the wound. It is vital to seek medical care as soon as you notice signs of an infection.
If you can’t afford to seek medical attention for a minor bite that still broke the skin, wash it well and use Neosporin or a similar antibiotic cream to try to prevent infection. Keep the wound clean and covered, but seek medical attention at the first sign of infection, as that is a condition that requires antibiotics and other professional help to treat.
The risk of infection from a dog bite is significant. It’s best that dog bite victims don’t wait until infection symptoms start showing to visit a doctor. If you are able, you should see a doctor as soon as possible if the bite is serious.
One type of dangerous bacteria that dogs carry is called Capnocytophaga canimorsus. This bacteria can cause severe infections that can even lead to limb amputations. Dogs also carry staph in their mouths, which can cause severe infections and lead to sepsis and limb amputations. Always take caution when treating bite wounds.
Hands are a very common dog bite target and a common infection site is when a finger joint or knuckle is bitten. Similar to a “fight bite” where a human punches a person in the teeth, gets cut and bacteria enters the wound, a bite victim will then straighten their finger causing the bacteria to get trapped inside the joint.
What Is the Risk of Contracting Rabies from a Dog Bite?
On the bright side, you are most likely to get bitten by a dog you know. This means you’ll have access to information about their rabies vaccines. If the dog that bites you has had all of their rabies shots, it is unlikely they can contract rabies and give it to you. The risk of contracting rabies from a vaccinated, healthy dog is minimal.
The owner of the dog should keep them under observation and in quarantine for ten days. During this time, if the dog becomes ill, get treatment for rabies immediately. If the dog is still healthy after ten days, you don’t need to get rabies treatment.
How To Avoid Dog Bites in the Future
While some dog bites are unprovoked, others come with signs that the dog is scared or overwhelmed. You can take some extra precautions when interacting with dogs, especially if dogs are often aggressive toward you.
Learn Their Body Language
One vital tip to feel and be safer around dogs is to learn how to read them. Knowing their body language will tell you whether the dog is uncomfortable, scared, or angry, which can all lead to them biting. It will also help you notice warning signs they give before they bite. Dogs don’t often bite as a first resort.
Don’t assume that because a dog is a “friendly breed” or owned by a “nice person” that they are immune from aggression. Dogs of all breeds can show aggression, and dogs bite for many different reasons.
Some signs of an aggressive dog include the dog making themself look larger and more threatening. They may bare their teeth or growl. These are signs they feel threatened and are responding with aggression.
Keep in mind that dogs can wag their tail while feeling aggressive to look larger. It isn’t always a sign of happiness. That’s why you should look at their body language as a whole and read them based on the combined message rather than just one thing they are doing.
Scared dogs will make themselves look smaller. This may manifest in the dog crouching, tucking their tail, and flattening their ears. This dog may stay still or slowly move away. Avoid sudden movements that they may perceive as threatening and let them leave.
Remember to view the dog’s behavior as a whole and not just as singular actions to get the best idea of how the dog is feeling. A happy dog will wag their tail and have open body language. Their mouth will likely be open with their tongue sticking out, and they will relax their ears. This dog may act excited to see you by jumping around or wiggling.
A jumping dog can also be aggressive, so look at the rest of their body language before assuming they are jumping for joy.
Don’t Approach Random Dogs
If a dog is without an owner, either don’t approach them or approach them cautiously. You don’t know how the dog will act when they meet someone new. Remember to keep an eye on their body language.
If the dog is with an owner, don’t approach without asking the owner first. Their owner will know best whether their dog will appreciate your presence and attention. Don’t pet the dog without asking first, either. If the owner says you can pet their dog, offer your hand for the dog to sniff. This is when the dog will either act receptive or resistant. Only pet the dog if they make it clear it’s okay.
This is when you employ your body language cues and see what the dog is telling you. Remember, dogs can’t speak, so their body language is vital for us to watch.
Exercise Mindfulness With Your Dog
You never know how other dogs will react to your dog. While your dog may be great around dogs and well-socialized, other dogs may not have had the same socialization and be reactive. They may have had a bad upbringing or lived in a shelter for a long time, and become very reactive because of that.
If a dog seems to react with aggression or anxiousness when they see your dog, take an alternative route. This is the best way to protect your dog and yourself.
When strangers tell you their dog is “friendly” and want them to greet your dog, feel free to say “no, thanks” and even suggest that your dog doesn’t do well with other dogs so you don’t have to force an encounter that may turn ugly.
Perhaps the most essential aspect of knowing what to do if a dog bites you is simply knowing what to do to avoid being bitten in the first place. With some precautions and a little knowledge, you can keep yourself safer if you encounter an aggressive or frightened dog.
A dog bite is a serious matter and should be treated as such. What appear to be minor bites can turn into serious infections or affect normal bodily functioning. Get proper care for a dog bite.