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 bout dog bites; types of dog bites, symptoms, first aid treatment, and prevention.
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.
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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:
- Redness around the wound
- Warmth around the wound or bite area
- Red streaks directing away from the bite
First Aid for Dog Bites
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:
- Control bleeding by applying firm pressure using a sterile dry cloth.
- Elevate the injured organ and stop any movements to control bleeding.
- Visit the nearest medical center for qualified medical care.
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.
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.
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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Dog bite injuries account for up to 90% of all animal bites. Therefore, if a dog has bitten you, you must tend to the injury immediately to reduce your bacterial infection risk.
You can treat the wound at home for dog bite levels 1 and 2. Wash the wound daily, and check it for signs of infection, including redness, swelling, warmth, a foul odor, or whitish-yellow discharge.
First Aid for Minor Dog Bite: Clean the injury with warm, soapy water as the bite occurs. Spread the antibiotic ointment on the surface of the injured part to prevent killing bacteria that could come from the dog’s saliva. Then cover the wound using a clean bandage to prevent microbial attacks.
First Aid for Severe Dog Bite: Control bleeding by applying firm pressure using sterile dry cloth. Elevate the injured organ and stop any movements to control bleeding. Then, visit the nearest medical center for qualified medical care.
- Some dogs will only bark after the bite, while some might show some aggression before the occurrence.
- Level 1 and level 2 make up 99% or more of dog bite incidents —minor dog bite, no blood.
- If the dog bite is minor, you can probably safely manage the bite at home.
- For level 2 dog bite treatment, you should see a doctor to reduce your risk of bacterial infection.
- Your primary healthcare provider can assess and treat minor to moderate dog bites.
- If the dog bite is severe, emergency medical personnel are best equipped to manage the trauma of a dog bite.
FAQs About Dog Bites
Q1. 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.
Q2. 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.
Q3. 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.
Q4. 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.
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