Dog Bites 101: What To Do After You’ve Been Bitten

aggressive chihuahua dog snarling and looking angry

Dogs are a human's best friend. They're loyal, lovable, and cute, and it's hard to think of them as anything else but companions.

While most dogs are relatively safe to be around, some dogs do bite. They bite for a variety of reasons such as being agitated, afraid, or excited. A dog's age and training are also factors in whether they'll be prone to biting.

If you're reading this article, chances are you or someone you know has been bitten by a dog — which can be scary. Some dog bites are playful and fun, specifically puppy bites, but there are times when the bite comes from an unhappy dog and can cause quite an injury.

In this article, you'll find vital information on what you should do and how you should handle being bitten by a dog.

White dog looks at camera with a mean look

Identify the Dog and the Owner

Staying calm and collected may seem impossible after a dog bite — especially if the bite creates a wound. It's important to identify the dog and its owner in case you need to file a report. If your dog bite requires medical attention, you may be able to get your medical fees covered by the dog's owner.

Identifying the owner and their dog is also useful in deciding whether or not the dog is safe to have around others in the future. Some dogs may be prone to biting at a young age and grow out of it as they get older. Depending on the specific situation, there may or may not have been external factors that caused the dog to react this way.

If you believe it was purely due to the dog's temperament, you may want to contact animal control or the police to have the dog evaluated to prevent future occurrences.

What Happens After You File a Dog Bite Report?

Filing a dog bite report is done with local authorities. These are animal control officers or the local police. Once the report is submitted, authorities will investigate the situation. The dog will be evaluated and it will be determined whether or not they are a threat to the public.

To file a report, you should have the owner's information and a description of the dog. If you can get the owner and dog to wait until authorities arrive, this is most beneficial. If not, make sure you have a contact number and address for the owner to help authorities locate the dog.

Personal injury attorney Herb Auger sheds light on who's responsible when a dog bites someone:

"The owner of the dog is liable. As long as the dog has previously bitten someone, the owner should have known the particular breed’s general propensities, or the dog has previously been declared a dangerous dog. In jurisdictions with a leash law, a dog owner could potentially be liable for injuries caused by their dog in violation of the leash law.

"For example, if the dog is running loose on other property or trespassing, the owner may be responsible, even though the dog had never bitten before and was not a known dangerous breed.  The dog owner’s negligence in failing to secure the animal would be enough to prevail.  We’ve had a number of cases where dogs have roamed another neighbor’s property and attacked children or – I had one case where an elderly woman was watering her flowers, and a giant, friendly Great Dane jumped up on her. She fell down and broke her hip. Obviously, the owner and his kids were negligent for letting the dog out of the yard and running loose."

Should You Go to the Doctor?

When it comes to dog bites, there's no one-size-fits-all answer as to whether or not you should go to the doctor. The short answer is that getting the bite checked out doesn't do any harm.

Yes, some dog bites — especially accidental bites — don't often break the skin or cause an invasive wound. These bites may not need professional care as they have a low threat of infection. Some dogs can carry diseases such as rabies, so it's always a good idea to get a bite checked out even if you don't think it's necessary. If your dog bite is a superficial wound, it will often heal quickly and on its own, but these bites do carry a risk for infection.

Having larger or punctured wounds checked out by a doctor can help you receive the care needed to help them efficiently heal. You can also take antibiotics or other medicine to help prevent infection and promote healing.

Aggressive dog barking and showing teeth

How To Treat a Dog Bite at Home

Going to the doctor to have a dog bite treated isn't always an option. While professional care is always best, if you choose to treat your wound at home, there are a few steps to follow.

Clean the wound with soap and water. It's important to clean out anything stuck inside the wound. Antibacterial soap works best. If your wound is bleeding after cleaning it, apply pressure over the opening with a cloth or bandage. Continue holding the pressure until you notice the bleeding has stopped. Use a wound bandage and securely cover the wound. Changing the bandage daily helps prevent infection and helps promote healing.

When You Should Be Concerned

It's important to know exactly when you should be worried when dealing with a dog bite. Bites can cause serious injuries and result in infection if not properly treated. Invasive or vicious bites can be identified by whether or not your wound is bleeding. Also, swelling and redness surrounding the bite can be a sign that you should get it checked out by a doctor. Pain also indicates that the wound site is developing into a more complicated condition and needs to be addressed immediately.

Do All Dog Bites Lead to Infection?

While not every dog bite will lead to an infection, most dogs have bacteria and other germs that can potentially cause the bite to develop into an infection. If you notice the wound not healing after an extended period, this may be a sign that there is an infection.

Other symptoms of infection are pain around the wound, inflammation, puss, swollen lymph nodes, and flu-like symptoms. These more extreme symptoms arise after an infection is left untreated for an extended period of time and aren't necessarily the first indicator that a bite is infected. If you have any suspicion that your wound is infected, always consult a doctor to have the possibility ruled out.

Complications

A dog bite can be gruesome, painful, and long-lasting. While these bites are already a lot to deal with, a handful of complications can develop after the bite occurs. You can experience an infection, nerve damage, scarring, inflammation, and PTSD depending on the severity of the bite and the situation. Sometimes, complications aren't avoidable — even with medical attention. It's best to prepare yourself for potential complications and do everything you can to allow your bite to heal.

Beware of the Dog sign on wooden wall

How Long Does It Take for a Dog Bite To Heal?

The length of time it takes for a dog bite to heal depends on the severity of the bite. Superficial bites should experience healing within three to five days, and these wounds may not leave a scar behind after they've fully healed in a few weeks.

More invasive or puncture bites may take a few weeks or longer to begin healing, and they will likely leave scar tissue behind after they've healed completely. Some wounds may refuse to heal, which is a sign that there are other complications.

How To Speed Up Wound Healing

Dog bites often heal at different speeds depending on their severity. To help speed up the healing process, you can use a few methods to promote healing. Clean the wound regularly with antibacterial soap. This helps the wound remain clean and healthy and wards off any infection that may slow down healing time. Applying a cold press to the wound can also help promote healing. The cool temperature can help reduce inflammation and redness allowing the wound to heal more effectively.

Do Large Dogs Bite More Than Small Dogs?

The size of the dog matters when it comes to dog bites; large dogs are much more likely to cause serious injuries from bites due to their strength and large mouths and teeth. Large breed dogs such as pitbulls, German shepherds, and rottweilers have powerful jaws and sharp teeth capable of inflicting serious damage. These dogs are prone to biting which is usually due to the dog's temperament, training, and breeding. If these dogs are provoked enough to bite, they will cause serious damage.

Smaller breeds like terriers, toy poodles, and beagles may not have the same physical strength as larger breeds, but their bites can still cause a painful wound or even an infection if left untreated. If you're bitten by a small dog, take the bite seriously. Even if only a small portion of your skin is broken, it's still necessary to take the same precautions as you would with a big dog.

Person places ice on their leg to stop swelling

Was Your Dog the One That Bit You?

No one wants to experience being bit by their own dog, especially a bite that causes serious damage. If you're at home and have an encounter with your dog that leads to them biting you, try to separate yourself from the dog immediately. It's best if you can put your dog in a kennel or shut them in a room so they can't bite you again. Once you have them contained, assess the wound and determine if medical attention is needed.

Once the wound is taken care of and you know how to properly care for it, it's time to make the hard decision. Should you have your dog evaluated? You may be afraid that having your dog evaluated by a professional means it will be taken away or euthanized.

In most cases, it's recommended that your dog undergoes extensive training to help prevent future bites. If your dog isn't able to follow through with the training and is still a threat, then a decision will have to be made there. A dog that bites can often be trained out of this behavior, and you'll be given the option to provide your dog with proper training.

How To Stop Pain After a Bite

After a bite, even if there are no complications, you may initially experience pain and also have some discomfort as it heals. Pain can be managed by icing the wound to combat inflammation of the nerves and tissue.

Over-the-counter medication can also be used to reduce the swelling and alleviate some of the pain. Depending on the area of your bite, you may want to elevate it to remove excess swelling.

While some pain is normal, your bite shouldn't be excruciating unless it's a major wound. If you have a standard bite, the pain should subside after a few days as the healing progresses. Some creams can help keep the wound clean while also providing pain management.

Human walking a dog on leash; dog pulling towards something

Preventative Training

Early socialization is key to avoiding dog bites. Teaching your canine from a young age how to properly interact with humans and other animals can help reduce the likelihood of their biting or later becoming aggressive. Owners need to create safe, positive experiences for their dogs during socialization which will help them remain friendly and well-mannered as they grow older.

Warning Sign

Unwanted aggression is a major warning sign that your dog may be prone to biting. Intentional biting is a form of aggression, and this behavior should be monitored to help decide if additional canine training is needed.

If your dog excessively barks or lunges at other animals or humans, or if they become obsessive over food and toys, these are also signs of aggressive behavior that could result in a bite. These behaviors often don't resolve themselves on their own, and professional training and care must be introduced into your canine's routine.

Play Biting or Not?

When playing with a dog or puppy, you'll notice that sometimes they may play bite as a form of excitement. These playful bites don't often hurt and don't usually break the skin. A puppy's sharp teeth may unintentionally cause bleeding or pain, but these bites are light enough that they usually don't require medical attention.

If you're unsure whether your dog's biting is playful or a form of aggression, pay attention to their body language and the reason for their biting. For instance, if your dog's tail is down or they begin to growl, these are signs that they may be exhibiting aggressive behavior rather than playfulness. If your dog's tail is wagging and they're barking and batting at you with their paws, these are usually signs they are playing.

Dog snarls and shows teeth

If You've Been Bitten, Remain Calm

Most dog bites don't lead to serious complications if properly handled. Go to a professional and have your bite examined to determine whether or not any additional support is needed. Allow your wound to heal by properly bandaging it, cleaning it, and lowering inflammation.

Worry about your safety first and foremost, and then deal with the dog afterward. Being bitten by a dog is a frightening experience and one that can be difficult to navigate. If you or someone you know has been bitten, reflect on the information outlined above to decide whether you should have the wound checked out by a doctor and how you can monitor the wound and promote healing. With the right care, all wounds eventually heal, including this one.

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