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What to Do When a Dog Bites You: First Aid, Treatment Steps, and More

A dog bite is something you need to tend to right away. Don’t just leave it alone even if you think it’s not serious. Here’s what to do when a dog bites you.

Each year 4.7 million dog bites happen in the United States. Of those, about 800,000 need medical care.

No one ever wants a dog to bite, but sometimes it happens. It’s important to know what to do when the unfortunate does happen. Keep reading for our guide on what to do when a dog bites you.

Prevent a Dog Bite

The best way to treat a dog bite is to prevent one in the first place. When you choose your family pet, make sure you pick a dog with a good temperament.

While you don’t need to get your dog intensive service dog training, you should teach them the basics. Make sure they know and obey your commands.

Don’t get too friendly with dogs that you don’t know. Never leave children unsupervised with a dog.

Approach a new dog slowly. Let them investigate and get to know you. If a dog becomes aggressive stay calm, move slow, and don’t make eye contact.

Ask About Vaccines

One of the first things you should do after the bite is to ask if the dog is up to date on their shots. During this, also get the dog owner’s name, phone number, and vet information. If appropriate, asking for ID is always a good way to make sure you get the correct information.

Rabies Shot?

If the dog that has bitten you shows signs of rabies, you should not wait to get the vaccine. Look for the dog to act erratically or foam at the mouth.

It’s rare for humans to get rabies, and even rarer for it to transmit from a dog. However, why risk it? Talk to your doctor and see if they think a post-exposure vaccine is right.

It’s a series of 4 shots over a couple weeks. That’s a small price to pay.

First Aid

What action you take for first aid depends on how severe the bite is. If the skin isn’t broken then all you need to do is wash the area with some soap and warm water.

Broken skin requires a bit more care. After you wash with soap and warm water, gently press the wound to promote a tiny amount of bleeding. This helps to flush the wound from the inside out.

If the bite is bad enough that the wound is already bleeding, then you’ll want to gently apply pressure to the wound so it will stop bleeding. Once the bleeding stops apply an antibacterial lotion and cover with a sterile bandage.

Check the Healing

You’ll want to keep an eye on the wound for a possible infection. Signs of an infection are redness, swelling, warmth, and the area is tender to the touch.

If these signs get ignored, the next ones will be pain and a fever. If you experience these symptoms you need to seek medical assistance immediately.

doctor and pen

When You Need Professional Medical Assistance

About 1 out of every 5 dog bites are considered serious and need medical attention right away. If your dog bite has any of these signs, you need to see a doctor immediately.

The dog is unknown and acting erratically. This is a sign of a wild or feral animal that probably has rabies.

The wound won’t stop bleeding or has exposed bone, tendons, or muscles. This is a sign that the bite went deep beyond the skin and major damage was done.

Finally, the wound is causing intense pain or looks swollen. You might also experience weakness, disorientation, or faintness also.

Possible Complications

The most common complication that people experience is an infection. Contrary to urban myth, a dog’s mouth is dirty and has bacteria living in it. The most common being Staphylococcus, Pasteurella, and Capnocytophaga.

When the bite is deep, there could be nerve, muscle, or bone damage. These all need medical attention to ensure they heal properly.

We’ve already covered the possibility of contracting rabies. This is a viral condition that will attack your nervous system.

If you can’t remember the last time you had a tetanus shot, you should go to your doctor for one. Most adults get one every 10 years or when they have an experience that puts them at risk, like a dog bite. This is a bacterial disease.


Scarring can happen if the bite breaks the skin. Often the bite will tear the skin, or the bite is in a place where the skin is sensitive. Both of these may cause you to have a scar.

The good news is that over time the scar’s appearance should fade. If it is especially noticeable, you can visit a dermatologist or plastic surgeon who can help you.


It is a sad fact that most dog bites happen to children. About 70% of dog bite victims, in fact, are children under 10. Thankfully the number of deaths from dog bites is very low, but if it happens it’s usually to this group of victims.

Seek Legal Advice

If you have medical bills or serious injuries you are going to need more info about how to recoup your damages. Sometimes you can hold the owner automatically financially liable for their dog.

Other states have a “one bite” rule. This means that owners are not liable for their dog’s bite unless the dog has bitten someone or shown that they are a threat to others before.

It is best to consult an attorney well versed about dog bites laws in your state. They can tell you what your rights are and possible recovery.

What to Do When a Dog Bites You

Now you know what to do when a dog bites you. Check to make sure the dog is up to date on its vaccines.

Then treat the wound in accordance with how severe the bite is. Then keep an eye on it as it heals for any signs of infection.

If the bite is serious or develops an infection then you need to seek treatment by a doctor. Do not wait to seek medical attention if the dog bite is a serious one that won’t stop bleeding or is deep.

Looking to help your dog blow off some steam? Take your dog companion to the Del Mar dog beach!​

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