What to do for a Dog Bite

Getting bitten by a dog can be scary, and you may be tempted to run around in circles for a while, trying to figure out what to do. Here's our guide to help you manage the situation.

Dog Showing Teeth
Once you have gotten yourself loose, try to remember not to run.

Extract yourself from the situation

Your first instinct when a dog’s mouth clamps down on your hand or any other body part may be to pull away. Unfortunately, that usually causes more damage because the dog’s teeth are still embedded in your skin. The best way to get the dog to release you is to push toward the dog.

Once you have gotten yourself loose, try to remember not to run. The dog will see you as prey and may chase after you to get a second bite. If you can back away to safety, that’s the best thing. Otherwise, curl up in a ball to protect your vital organs. Keep your fingers and thumbs tucked in toward your palm to keep them from being ripped off, and use your balled hands to cover your ears. This position gives the dog nothing important to bite on, and he or she may go away.

If you can, take a picture of the dog once you have gotten to safety. This can be used in the event the animal control officer asks what the dog looked like so they can quarantine him / her for a rabies check.

Hand wrapped in bandage from dog bite
Your first job is to stop the bleeding.

Stop the bleeding

Once you are away from the dog and in a safe place, your first job is to stop the bleeding. Use a clean cloth if possible, but anything handy – such as your shirt or a leftover napkin from your lunch – will do the trick. Press the makeshift bandage against the wound(s) and elevate the bitten body part above your heart. Keep pushing until the bleeding stops or medical help arrives.

If the bandage becomes soaked, don’t remove it from the wound. It is likely already helping your body stop the bleeding by forming the basis of a scab. If you need more material to soak up the blood, apply a second bandage (or shirt or napkin) on top of the first and continue to press on the wound.

Get medical care

Any dog bite that breaks the skin needs medical care. Not only do you need to be checked for internal damage and infection, you will also want to have a legal record of the bite in case there is any question about who’s going to pay for it.

Hosiptal Emergency Sign
Be sure to get immediate medical care for a dog bite.

Minor dog bites are usually flushed clean with sterile water and bandaged loosely. More serious bites can require surgery to fix broken bones or damaged soft tissue. However, it is usually best that bites not be sutured so that any infection can drain from the area.

The doctor may or may not put you on antibiotics at first. Sometimes they wait to see if an infection develops before prescribing. If swelling, heat, redness, and increasing pain develop around the wound, you should be treated for an infection. Check for red streaks running from the wound in the direction of your heart, which indicate that an infection has gotten into the bloodstream, at which point antibiotic treatment becomes a lot more urgent.

If you are placed on an antibiotic, don’t stop taking it even if you feel better. Make sure you take every dose until the medication is gone, to prevent extra-hardy germs from surviving the treatment.

Infections which get into the joints can cause big problems in a hurry. Surgery may be required to clean out the joint, and long-term IV antibiotics may be needed. Infections that won’t go away may need a wound vac to suck the infection from the area.

Legal Document
Understand what happens legally with animal control, home ownser's insurance and a possible lawsuit.

Legal requirements

If your dog is the biter, you’ll need to be aware of the laws in your jurisdiction. Some places require that the dog be quarantined in an animal control facility for 10 – 14 days while they check for signs of rabies. In other areas, you’ll simply have to keep your dog confined at home for the recommended time. At the end of the quarantine, a veterinary professional must examine your dog and certify that he or she is exhibiting no signs of rabies.

If the bite came from a dog that does not live with you, the hospital will report the bite to animal control, who will ask you to identify the dog and who owns him/her; if you know. We all feel badly about getting a neighbor’s dog in trouble, but for your protection, you really do need to answer the warden’s questions truthfully. If you had the time to take a picture of the offender, it can come in handy, particularly if the dog is a stray or is unknown to you.

The dog’s family’s homeowner’s insurance company is required to pay for your medical care from a dog bite. However, if you are unlucky enough to be bitten by a stray or by someone who lives in an apartment, you may be forced to pay from your own funds whatever is left after your medical insurance pays. If the expenses are significant, check with your prosecutor’s office to see if you qualify for relief from the Victims of Crime fund in your local or state jurisdiction.

As a last resort, you may have to sue the dog’s owners to get payment. This is where you want to have lots of documentation as to the extent of your injuries and the identity of the dog. A picture of the dog, as well as multiple pictures of your wound(s) will be very helpful in winning a lawsuit if you are forced to go to court.

Keep all of your receipts from anything you purchase at the pharmacy such as medications for pain and / or infection, bandages, and adhesive tape. When the bills comes from your medical provider, save a copy in your file. Also, save the explanation of benefits form that your insurer sends, so you can prove what your out-of-pocket expenses were. It is likely that your insurance company will also sue to recover their expenses.

Get well soon!


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