Essential First Aid Steps for Dog Bite Injuries

In the United States, dog bite injuries stand at 4.5 million annually, with half of the victims being children aged 5-9 years. Some bites barely break the skin, while others are severe and deadly serious. An animal bite can also cause medical problems that are not presently obvious, such as rabies. If you are a parent, teacher, pet owner, or anyone who is always outdoors and interacts with dogs, this post will teach you everything you need to know about dog bites, including types of dog bites, symptoms, first aid treatment, and prevention.


Dog bites can be serious, and complications such as infections or even rabies transmission can occur. It's essential to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and treatment based on the specific circumstances of the bite. Here are some steps to consider for treating a dogbite:

  1. Ensure Safety: If the dog is still aggressive or poses a threat, ensure you and others are safe from further attacks. Try to restrain the dog if it's safe to do so, or remove yourself from the situation.
  2. Wash the Wound: Gently clean the wound with mild soap and warm water for several minutes to reduce the risk of infection. Avoid using hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, as they can further damage tissues.
  3. Apply Pressure: If the bite is bleeding, apply a clean cloth or sterile gauze pad to the wound and apply gentle pressure to control the bleeding. Elevating the injured area can also help reduce bleeding.
  4. Bandage: Once the bleeding has stopped, cover the wound with a clean, sterile dressing or bandage to keep it clean and prevent infection. Change the dressing daily or as needed.
  5. Antibacterial Ointment: Applying an over-the-counter antibacterial ointment, like Neosporin, can help reduce the risk of infection. Follow the product instructions.
  6. Pain Relief: Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help alleviate pain and inflammation. Follow the dosing instructions carefully, and consult with a healthcare provider if you're unsure.
  7. Seek Medical Attention: Regardless of the severity of the bite, you should seek medical attention. Dog bites can introduce bacteria into the wound, leading to infection. In some cases, they may require stitches or other medical treatment.
  8. Report the Bite: If the dog bite is from an unfamiliar or stray dog, report it to local animal control or law enforcement so they can assess the situation and determine if the dog poses a risk to public safety.
  9. Rabies Risk: If you don't know the dog's rabies vaccination status, you may need a rabies vaccination or a series of shots as a precaution. Consult a healthcare provider to assess the risk and determine if rabies prophylaxis is necessary.
  10. Follow-up Care: Follow any instructions provided by your healthcare provider, such as taking prescribed antibiotics or returning for wound checks. Infections can develop days after the bite.


Ensure Safety

In the event of a dog bite, the first priority is to ensure the safety of yourself and others. If the dog is still aggressive or poses a threat, it's crucial to take measures to protect everyone involved. Attempt to restrain the dog using a leash or any available materials if it's safe to do so. However, always exercise caution when attempting to restrain a dog to prevent further injuries. If it's not possible to safely restrain the dog, calmly and slowly move away from the dog to a secure location, ensuring that others do the same.


Wash the Wound

After ensuring safety, the next step is to clean the wound. Use mild soap and warm water to gently cleanse the affected area for at least five minutes. Carefully wash both around and inside the wound to reduce the risk of infection. Avoid using harsh substances such as hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol, as they can be damaging to the injured tissues. Stick to using mild soap and water for thorough cleaning.


Apply Pressure

If the dog bite is causing bleeding, take a clean cloth or sterile gauze pad and apply it directly to the wound. Use gentle, consistent pressure to control the bleeding. This helps promote the formation of a blood clot, reducing the risk of excessive blood loss. Elevating the injured area, if possible, can also be beneficial in minimizing bleeding and swelling.



Once the bleeding is under control or has stopped, cover the wound with a clean, sterile dressing or bandage. Ensure that the dressing fully covers the wound to maintain cleanliness and protect it from potential contaminants. It's important to change the dressing daily or as instructed by a healthcare provider to support healing and prevent infection.


Antibacterial Ointment

To reduce the risk of infection, consider applying an over-the-counter antibacterial ointment like Neosporin to the wound. Follow the product's instructions carefully when applying the ointment, and avoid excessive use.


Pain Relief

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) can be taken to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. Adhere to the dosing instructions provided on the packaging and consult with a healthcare provider if you have any concerns or questions.


Seek Medical Attention

Regardless of the severity of the dog bite, it's imperative to seek prompt medical attention from a healthcare provider. Dog bites can introduce harmful bacteria into the wound, and complications like infection may arise. Deep or extensive wounds may require stitches or other medical treatments to facilitate proper healing.


Report the Bite

In the case of a dog bite from an unfamiliar or stray dog, report the incident to local animal control or law enforcement. This action allows authorities to assess the situation and determine whether the dog poses a risk to public safety, which is vital for preventing further incidents.


Rabies Risk

If you are uncertain about the dog's rabies vaccination status, consult a healthcare provider to assess the risk. Depending on the circumstances, you may need a rabies vaccination or a series of rabies shots as a precautionary measure. Rabies is a potentially deadly disease transmitted through animal bites, so proper evaluation is crucial.


Follow-up Care

Always adhere to any instructions provided by your healthcare provider after the initial evaluation. This may include taking prescribed antibiotics to prevent or treat infections or returning for wound checks. Monitor the wound closely for any signs of infection or complications, as infections can develop several days after the initial bite. Report any concerning symptoms to your healthcare provider promptly to ensure appropriate care and healing.

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What is a Dog Bite?

A dog bite is a bite wound inflicted by a dog. It is hard to predict the possibility of a dog bite; it is even harder to know when a dog is about to bite. Some dogs will only bark after the bite, while some might show some aggression before the occurrence. Nevertheless, the speed at which they execute remains a mystery to most victims, and some take a few minutes before they know what to do. When it happens far from the hospital, you need a trained first aider to care for the injuries and control bleeding. Basic first aid training and certification are vital for people wishing to provide first aid in such instances.

Also Read- Why Parent Should Learn CPR & First Aid?

Dog bite level

Types of Dog Bites

Dog bite injuries are classified by severity. No matter what size or breed of the dog, a bite from any animal can cause open wounds in the skin, leading to an increased risk of infection.

Level 1 Dog Bite:

The teeth of the dog don’t touch the skin. This is usually a dog trying to scare another animal or human so they will just disappear. Getting help immediately before it progresses to an actual bite is essential.

Level 2 Dog Bite:

The dog’s teeth touch the skin but do not break. You might see redness and light bruising. The level 2 dog bite is concerning, even though it has not yet broken the skin. For level 2 dog bite treatment, you should see a doctor to reduce your risk of bacterial infection.

Level 3 Dog Bite:

In this type of bite, the dog’s teeth break the victim’s skin and leave bloody marks behind. There are one to four shallow puncture wounds on the victim’s skin. Even though the bite is not severe, you must be treated in a hospital.

Level 4 Dog Bite:

This level involves one to four punctures from a single dog bite. One puncture wound is deep. The human or animal bitten may also have deep bruising around the wound. At this level, the dog must be kept away from humans and other animals until a professional can assess the situation.

Level 5 Dog Bite:

This type of Dog Bite involves multiple bites, including deep puncture wounds. It May result from a dog attack. This means the dog is not safe around people or other animals.

Level 6 Dog Bite:

The victim, whether an animal or a human, is killed in the attack. Fortunately, this is rare.

Level 1 and level 2 make up 99% or more of dog bite incidents —minor dog bite, no blood. These dogs are most likely not severely dangerous, and the prognosis for their behavioral issues is good with proper treatment.

Symptoms of Dog Bites

  • Swelling
  • Redness around the wound
  • Warmth around the wound or bite area
  • Red streaks directing away from the bite
  • Fever
  • Pain
  • Pus
dog bite

Like most injuries and animal bites, you can treat the wound at home to lower the risk of infection. The severity of bite injury ranges from one dog to another, and the animal’s force approached the victim. Nonetheless, one must learn first aid to handle the wound without exposing the victim to more injuries. It starts with an assessment of the wound. The steps you take will depend on whether the impact results in:

First Aid for Minor Wounds:

For a minor injury, you are not likely to observe a major break on the skin as it involves a slight scratch on the surface, often from a dog immunized for rabies. Nonetheless, it would help if you still had first aid to support the healing process. Trained or not, you need to do the following:

  • Clean the injury with warm, soapy water or disinfect with antibacterial cleansing agents as soon as the bite occurs. It might call for you to visit the nearest pharmacy to get the disinfectants.
  • Smear the antibiotic ointment on the surface of the injured part to prevent killing bacteria that could come from the animal’s saliva.
  • After the treatment, a clean bandage comes in handy for covering the wound to prevent microbial attacks on the raw wound. In addition, it removes dirt and prevents the delicate wound from further injuries to lengthen the healing process.
  • Monitor the injury for possible infections that manifests in pus, pain, red fluid oozing out of the wound, and unpleasant odor. In the event of a bite on a joint, fingers, hand, and feet, consider immediate medical attention to get the right prescription.

First Aid for Severe Wounds:

They include all bites and scratches that result in torn skin, deep wounds, and excess bleeding. Most of these wounds result from bites involving front teeth that grasp the skin and cause damage. With some children almost the same height as the dogs, most bites occur on the neck, lips, cheeks, nose, and facial areas. On the contrary, most adult bites happen to the hands, legs, and arms. In the event of a severe injury, consider the following:


Dog Bite Treatment at Home

Quickly assess the wound. If there is no blood, wash the bite injury with soap and water as soon as possible. If the wound is bleeding, apply pressure with a clean cloth for 5 minutes or until the bleeding stops. Then, wash the affected area with soap and water. Flushing the wound liberally with clean water can decrease the odds of a dog bite infection.

If possible, keep the affected area above the heart level to prevent swelling and infection. If the wound is open, loosely cover it with a clean, sterile bandage.

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If possible, ask the dog’s owner for a copy of the animal’s vaccination records. This information will help your physician decide what kind of follow-up treatment is necessary. If the dog is a stray, call animal control. They will attempt to find the dog and check for rabies.

If the dog bite is minor (Level 1, 2, or 3), you can probably safely manage the bite at home. Wash the wound daily, and check it for signs of infection, including redness, swelling, warmth, a foul odor, or whitish-yellow discharge.

Why is Medical Care Critical?

Unlike adults, children are likely to succumb to these injuries, so 20% of the bites require medical attention. While doctors recommend a tetanus injection every ten years, a severe wound will likely alter the protocol. If your wound is dirty and the current shot exceeds five years since injection, the physician may recommend a booster soon after the injury. Bites from unknown dogs increase the risk of rabies, hence the need for medical attention regardless of severity. If the skin swells after treatment, or you observe pus and redness in the area, contact your doctor for further treatment.

Read the detailed Study Guide for Basic First Aid.

When to See a Doctor for a Dog Bite?

Call 911 and seek emergency medical care if the victim is bleeding profusely from multiple wounds. Call a doctor if:

  • Bleeding doesn’t stop after 15 minutes of pressure.
  • The bite has broken the skin. A tetanus shot may be necessary to reduce the possibility of tetanus infection, depending on when the victim last received a tetanus booster.
  • The victim was bit by a wild or stray dog, or you cannot obtain the animal’s immunization records from the owner.
  • The victim has a weakened immune system due to an illness or medical treatment.
  • You notice any signs of infection, including redness, swelling, warmth, or pus.

Depending on the severity of the bite and the victim’s overall health, the doctor may recommend antibiotic ointments or treatment to prevent or treat the infection. If the dog is suspected of having rabies, the victim will need rabies vaccinations to prevent the disease’s development.

dog bite

Who to See for a Dog Bite?

Your primary healthcare provider can assess and treat minor to moderate dog bites. However, if the dog bite is severe, emergency medical personnel are best equipped to manage the trauma of a dog bite. People who experience severe bites may also see a plastic surgeon. In most cases, dog bite treatment is straightforward and uncomplicated. When in doubt, consult a physician.

How to Prevent Dog Bites?

With an enormous prevalence of dog bites in the US, there needs to be a change of tactics to prevent the occurrences. However, a vast majority of these can be avoided through simple measures that include:

  • Get a dog with the right temperament. Some dog breeds are known to have bad moods and hence likely to bite on slight provocation.
  • Avoid confronting unfamiliar dogs.
  • Limit the time your kids spend with dogs and avoid leaving them with dogs you do not know.
  • Avoid facing dogs when they are handling their puppies.
  • Always let the dogs approach you.
  • Avoid eye contact, screaming, and running away whenever you meet an aggressive dog.

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Why Do Dogs Bite?

There are various reasons why dog bites, but most commonly as a reaction to something. For example, dogs bite when they are in a stressful situation, scared, threatened, or startled. They can also bite to protect something valuable, like their puppies, food, or toys.

What to Do Immediately After a Bite?

It would be best if you distanced yourself and the dog to lower your risk of a second chomp. Once you’ve put a safe gap between yourself and the dog, attempt to find its owner to ask about the dog’s vaccination history and veterinarian’s contact information. For a minor injury, wash the area with warm water and soap and apply antibacterial lotion.

How Long After a Dog Bite Does Infection Set In?

After being bitten, most ill people will show symptoms within 3 to 5 days, but this can range anywhere from 1 to 14 days.

How Long Does It Take for a Dog Bite to Heal?

Depending on how bad the wound is, a dog bite may take seven days or as long as several months to heal. Taking good care of your bite injury at home will help it heal and reduce your chance of infection.

What to do if your dog bites you and breaks the skin?

If your own dog bites you and breaks the skin, wash the wound thoroughly with mild soap and warm water for at least five minutes. Avoid using harsh substances like hydrogen peroxide or alcohol. Apply gentle pressure to control bleeding, and if bleeding is significant, use a clean cloth or sterile gauze pad. Once bleeding is under control, cover the wound with a clean, sterile dressing or bandage.

Follow your healthcare provider's instructions for wound care and consider discussing the incident with a professional dog trainer or behaviorist to address any underlying issues causing the aggression.


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