Dog Bites: What You Need to Know & Next Steps
Suffering a dog bite can be a very distressing experience. It can be painful and upsetting, particularly because we often think of dogs as friendly, loyal pets. It may result in an uncomfortable situation for both the victim and the family of the dog responsible.
Remember, dogs are animals, and like all animals, they have potential to bite us. About 4.7 million Americans get bitten by dogs each year, and of those, one in five dog bites results in injuries that require medical attention. Most of the time, people get bitten by dogs they know.
If you, your child or your dog get bitten by someone else’s dog, there are several steps you should follow, depending on the situation and the severity of the dog bite.
About Dog Bites
With millions of Americans bitten by dogs each year, it may not come as a surprise children are often the victims. Dog bites were the ninth leading cause of nonfatal injury to children ages 5 to 9 from 2013 to 2012. A total of 66 percent of dog bites among children are on the head or neck. In addition to children, older adults and postal workers are other frequent victims of dog bites.
In 2013, insurance companies in the U.S. paid more than $483 million in dog bite claims. That same year, doctors performed nearly 27,000 reconstructive procedures on victims of dog bites to repair their injuries.
Of course, not all dog bites are the same. Dog bites and their resulting injuries can vary widely in seriousness. There are six different dog bite classifications.
Level 1: A snap, also known as an air bite or warning bite. There is no skin contact.
Level 2: A bite that involves skin contact, but does not break the skin.
Level 3: A bite that results in up to four puncture holes in the skin that are shallower than the length of the dog’s tooth.
Level 4: A bite that results in up to four puncture holes in the skin that are deeper than the length of the dog’s tooth. The punctures may also have visible tears or gashes. The characteristics of this type of bite indicate the dog latched down on the skin and shook its head back and forth.
Level 5: Multiple bites containing deep puncture wounds.
Level 6: A bite or multiple bites that result in death or consumed flesh.
Understanding these classifications can help you understand the seriousness of your wounds if you experience a dog bite. It can also help you understand the dog’s behavior and what caused him to bite.
Precautions After a Dog Bite Occurs
There are several scenarios in which a dog bite might take place. If someone else’s dog bites you, your child or your dog, consider the circumstances. Do you know who owns the dog? Is it a puppy? Is the dog exhibiting strange or aggressive behavior?
If you know who owns the dog and the owner is present, exchange names and contact information. Obtain information from any witnesses, as well. Ask the owner if they can show proof their dog has an up-to-date rabies vaccination. If you do not know who owns the dog, you may need to get a rabies vaccination, which could cost more than $3,000.
What to Do After a Puppy Bites You
If a puppy bit you, stay calm and try not to react. A puppy is still a baby, and it may bite because it is teething, or trying to establish its dominance. A bite from a puppy is not likely to be the result of aggression.
Though it will probably be a minor dog bite, a puppy bite might still hurt, and it may break the skin as well. If the bite results in a superficial wound, follow the steps outlined below to treat it.
What to Do After an Unknown Dog Bites You
If you do not know the dog — or the owner of the dog — who is responsible for the bite, you will want to act to protect yourself from any possible disease or rabies the dog might have. Avoid trying to hold or catch the dog on your own. Instead, call 911 right away, then they or you can contact animal control. You want to clean the injured area so you can avoid transmitting bacteria that could cause an infection, and get proper medical attention and a rabies vaccination right away.
What If Your Dog Bites You?
If your dog bites you or a member of your household, it may be an upsetting experience, but it is best to try to remain calm. While you do not have to worry about contacting the police or taking down someone else’s information in this situation, you should still think about the circumstances around the bite. Was it accidental? Was the dog playing? Or, was he fighting with another dog and you got in the way? In this situation, don’t discipline the dog after the bite occurs. The dog will not understand the connection between the biting and the subsequent discipline.
There might be medical or behavioral reasons for the bite. Your dog may be concealing pain or injury, and perhaps you got too close and the dog reacted by nipping at you. If you suspect that could be the case, make an appointment with your veterinarian. If your dog bit you because you got too close to something valuable to him, like his favorite napping spot, toy or food bowl during mealtime, it’s possible the dog is starting to show signs of aggression. You may need to work with your dog to try to eliminate aggressive behaviors, and it might require enlisting the help of a professional dog trainer.
Seek Medical Attention for a Dog Bite
When a dog bites someone, his front teeth grab and compress the tissue, while the smaller teeth tear the skin. Not all dog bites are the same, and the steps you take after a dog bite will differ depending on the severity of the bite and the type of injury that resulted.
Regardless of the severity of the injury, it’s important to manage the dog bite as soon as possible. If the dog bite requires medical attention, you will want to see your doctor within eight hours of the incident. The biggest concern after a dog bite occurs is the risk of an infection. About half of dog bites introduce bacteria. An unvaccinated dog could carry and transmit rabies to a bite victim. You will want to treat the wound immediately — seeking medical help if necessary — to avoid the wound becoming infected. If you have diabetes, or if your immune system is compromised, you have a greater risk of getting an infection.
If you suffered a minor dog bite and the resulting injury is a superficial wound, like a scrape or scratch, clean and disinfect the injured area, then apply a topical antibiotic to prevent infection and cover it with a bandage.
For a deeper gash — or puncture wound — allow the wound to bleed for five minutes. The bleeding will help clean some bacteria out of the wound. Then, apply direct pressure to the wound with a clean towel. When the bleeding stops, rinse the wound with water and clean it with a mild soap. If you have a puncture wound, avoid disinfecting with hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol, and avoid bandaging the wound as well. Just clean the injury and keep it elevated.
If applying pressure does not stop the bleeding, call 911. If the injury is bleeding excessively, or if it is on your neck or head, do not wait — call for help right away.
See a doctor if:
- An unfamiliar dog bit you.
- The puncture wound appears deep.
- The wound will not stop bleeding.
- The injury looks infected — it has swelling, redness or pus.
If you visit your doctor, be prepared for questions. A doctor will ask you about your health and any conditions you have to determine if you are at greater risk of developing an infection. He or she may also want to know some details about the dog bite. Do you know the dog’s owner? Is the animal up to date on its vaccinations, especially its rabies vaccination? What were the circumstances surrounding the bite? Did you somehow provoke the dog?
Your doctor will be able to do a thorough cleaning of the injured area and remove any debris, dirt, dead tissue and bacteria. He or she will also take a closer look at the bite and determine if the puncture damaged any tendons, muscles, nerves or bone.
Depending on the location and severity of the bite, there are different ways to proceed in terms of closing the wound. Often, doctors choose to leave bite wounds open. If the wound is on your face, or if it is likely to cause extremely noticeable scars, your doctor may suture it to help reduce scarring. Deep or severe puncture wounds may warrant plastic surgery.
One of the most important tips for dog bite management is to take all appropriate measures to prevent infection. If you got a bite from an unknown dog or a dog that tested positive for rabies, you will need a rabies vaccination. You may also require a tetanus shot and antibiotics to prevent an infection.
How to Report a Dog Bite
After you receive proper medical treatment for the dog bite, it’s important to take additional action to help ensure the same dog does not bite another person. Even if your injury was minor, file a report with the proper local authorities. Contact your local animal control, as well as the police, to notify them of the incident. These steps will make certain there is documentation of the incident, and it will ensure the owner takes the necessary steps to prevent their dog from biting again in the future. Dog owners may face some restrictions if the authorities deem their dog is dangerous.
Next, try to gather more information about the dog. Obtain a copy of the dog’s license information. Seek out documentation regarding other potential incidents. Does the dog have a history of attacking or biting humans or other animals? Have local authorities designated the dog as dangerous?
Legal Action After a Dog Bite
Laws surrounding dog bites vary depending on where you live. You will want to contact an attorney to help you navigate the legal complexities surrounding a dog bite incident. A personal injury lawyer will have your best interest in this situation.
If you need help understanding what legal action to take after a dog-bite-related injury, take the next step by contacting KBG Injury Law for a free consultation.
At this point, you will also want to thoroughly document your experience. Take photographs of your injury. Consult your doctor if you need guidance on the safest way to do so, especially if you have to pull back bandages. Take photos of all your wounds and the location where the bite occurred. If any clothing became torn or bloodstained during the incident, photograph it as well.
Begin taking notes about your personal experience. Record what happened when the bite occurred, and continue to record everything that happened following the bite, including details about your injuries, any medical treatment and your general thoughts and feelings in the days and weeks following the incident.
If you are dealing with a dog bite from your dog, follow the same steps outlined above. Be sure to gather as much information about the incident as possible, especially from witnesses. Again, if you report the incident, it may help prevent the same dog from attacking or biting other dogs and humans in the future.
Preventing a Dog Bite
Getting bitten by a dog is, at least, an upsetting and painful experience, and at worst, a traumatic experience that results in serious injury or even death. By modifying your behavior, you may be able to prevent dog bites. Here are some actions you can take to avoid being bitten by a dog.
- If you are getting a new dog, try to adopt one with a good temperament. You will want to pick a dog who is friendly and comfortable with you and other members of your household.
- If you encounter a strange dog, keep your distance. Also, never leave your child alone with an unknown or unfamiliar dog.
- If you decide to approach a dog, especially if it is one you do not know, do so slowly, or let the dog approach you when he is ready.
- Avoid interfering with a dog who is eating or feeding its puppies.
- If a dog does become aggressive, remain calm. Do not panic. Move slowly, avoiding eye contact with the dog.
If you ever encounter a dog you think may be dangerous, don’t hesitate to file a report. For example, if a dog chases you, or exhibits behavior that seems aggressive or threatening, report the incident. Even if the dog does not bite you, it could be worth notifying the authorities about a dog who has the potential to attack or bite someone. This action may lead to a dog being designated “potentially dangerous,” which could force the owner to take steps to prevent their dog from causing harm to others.
Regardless, it’s beneficial to take time to learn the laws in your community. Contact your local government, whether it’s a city or country clerk, animal control or your local police department. Request a copy of any ordinances about dog bites, animal control or dangerous dogs.
If you, your child or any loved one encounters an aggressive dog and the worst happens, you can at least be sure you have armed yourself with the knowledge to take the appropriate action.