An estimated 4.5 million Americans suffer from a dog bite every year, and one out of every five of those bites is serious enough to call for medical attention, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Hopefully you can avoid being one of these statistics, but it’s important to be prepared and know what to do if you or a loved one is bitten by a dog. Check out the tips below, and always call a doctor if the wound seems serious or if you don’t know the vaccination status of the dog.
Clean and sterilize superficial wounds. If you have a small scrape as opposed to a puncture wound, you most likely won’t need to go to a doctor. Run water over the wound, and then use rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to sterilize it. Dab on a topical antibiotic and cover the wound with a bandage. Apply the antibiotic up to two times a day until the wound completely heals.
Apply pressure to a puncture wound. Get a clean towel and firmly hold it over the wound to stop the bleeding. If the bleeding does not stop after about five minutes, or if the wound was to your head or neck, call 911.
If you know the owner of the dog, ask to see vaccination records. Although rabies is relatively rare, you need to make sure that the dog that bit you is up to date on its vaccinations. If the owner does not have the vaccination records or if you don’t know who the dog’s owner is, you’ll need to see your doctor.
Contact animal control if you were bitten by a stray dog. Although your first priority should be to get medical attention, you should alert your local animal control department as soon as possible if you were bitten by a stray or unknown dog. Never attempt to catch or hold a dog that you do not know.
Know When to Call Your Doctor
Although not all dog bites require medical attention, you need to recognize the situations when you should see your doctor. Call your doctor if:
- You don’t know the vaccination status of the dog (or know that the dog wasn’t up to date on its vaccinations)
- Your last tetanus shot was more than five years ago
- The bite is to your hand, foot, or head
- The bite is deep or won’t stop bleeding
- You have any disease or condition that weakens or suppresses your immune system
- The area around the bite feels warm or tender, looks red or swollen, or pus is oozing from the bite
- You develop a fever
When you go to the doctor, he or she will look for signs of infection as well as any nerve, tendon, or bone damage. They will then clean the wound and give you an antibiotic to prevent infection. They may also ask you to schedule an appointment in a few days so that they can check on the wound again. If you don’t know the dog’s vaccination status and the dog was showing symptoms of rabies (such as extreme aggression and lack of coordination), you will need to start a series of rabies shots as soon as possible. If you were bitten by a stray dog, animal control will try to find the dog so that they can test it for rabies.
If you or a family member was bitten by a dog because of the negligence of the owner, talk to a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. The dog owner may be liable for the bite, and you may be able to receive compensation for medical expenses and other costs associated with the accident.