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Dog bite

Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 09.02.2023 | 3 min read

Dog bites are common, often to the hands, forearms, or lower legs. Dog saliva carries lots of bacteria, and there's a risk of infection if the bite has broken the skin. So, if a dog has bitten you or your child, give it a thorough look, and seek medical attention if there is a puncture wound, as it is likely to need antibiotics.

Dog bites are the most common animal bites – from your pet or that of a neighbor - but the same advice here applies to cat bites or other domestic animals.

Next steps

If the bite appears to be minor and there's no break to the skin, it would be sensible to watch and wait for any signs of infection or discomfort. There may be mild bruising, but this should improve on its own.

If there's any break in the skin, clean the wound under cool running water immediately for 15 minutes and pat dry with sterile gauze or a clean towel or tissue. If there is bleeding, apply firm pressure with the gauze or towel for up to 15 minutes, and wrap well before seeking help. If anything is embedded, such as a tooth, try to ease it out with the gauze, but don't force it, as an emergency team can safely remove it.

You can go to your local emergency department, walk-in center, or urgent care for medical attention. If the bite appears fairly minor, you could call your doctor for same-day advice.

If there is a break in the skin, you will likely be given a course of antibiotics. You may be offered stitches to help it heal. If there is a risk of damage to a joint, bone, or nerve, there's excessive bleeding, or the wound is deep, or if it involves the face, your team may seek a specialist opinion, and they may do further tests such as an X-ray or another scan.

You may also be offered a tetanus booster vaccine if you're not sure when you last had one or if you know, it was more than ten years ago.

Once home, you should keep the wound clean and dry and apply dressings as directed.

When to worry?

Bacteria is the most likely infectious agent, but there's the possibility of others. If there's any risk of rabies, you or your child will be offered a rabies vaccine to protect you.

Watch out for any signs of infection, such as the area around the injury becoming red, swollen, hot, or sore, yellow or white pus oozing out, you start feeling unwell or feverish, or you are finding it difficult or painful to move any joints or muscles under the bite. Return to the emergency department if this is the case.

Who's dog is it?

If this is your dog, you will know about their vaccination status. If it is not your dog and you are unsure, your medical team may suggest giving you or your child the rabies vaccine for protection.

A dog who bites is potentially dangerous to you, your family, neighbors, and strangers. Your medical team will ask about the circumstances and may suggest that the incident be reported to the police to protect other members of the public. If this was your dog, you are personally responsible for their behavior and could be criminally liable for future attacks. If this is someone else's dog, they can be held accountable.

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