How to Treat a Dog Bite at Home

a dog baring its teeth behind a chain link fence

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Dog bites are common, especially in children. There are more dog bites in warm months than in the colder months. Nobody really knows why other than to guess that dogs and kids are more likely to come together on sunny days.

Treating a dog bite should always start with the safety of all involved, including the patient, the rescuer, and if possible, the dog. Dogs don't always bite out of aggression, many times they bite out of fear. If we can make the animal feel safe, it might be the best way to make everyone around it feel safe as well.

Immediate Treatment

Here are tips on how to treat a dog bite at home.

  • Stay Safe. Secure the dog and/or the patient. Move one away from the other. Dogs may bite because their territory is threatened. If the dog's owner is around, instruct him or her to secure the dog. If not, move the patient to a safe location. Be careful about starting any treatment until there is a reasonable expectation that the dog won't attack again. Controlling bleeding can often be done at the same time as you are making the area safe, especially if the patient can help hold pressure.
  • If you are not the patient, practice universal precautions and wear personal protective equipment if available.
  • Control any bleeding by following the appropriate steps. Avoid using a tourniquet unless there is severe bleeding that cannot be controlled any other way.
  • Once the bleeding is controlled, clean the wound with soap and warm water. Do not be afraid to clean inside the wound. Be sure to rinse all the soap away, or it will cause irritation later.
  • Cover the wound with a clean, dry dressing. You can put antibiotic ointment on the wound before covering, but it's not necessary. Watch for signs of infection:
    • Redness
    • Swelling
    • Heat
    • Weeping pus

When to See the Doctor

Always call a physician to determine if you should be seen. Some dog bites need antibiotics, particularly if they are deep puncture wounds. Additionally, many municipalities have regulations for reporting dog bites and monitoring the dogs, which is often initiated by contact with a doctor.

Any unidentified dog runs a minor risk of carrying rabies. It's very rare, but if the dog cannot be identified and the owner cannot show proof of rabies vaccination, the patient must seek medical attention. Rabies is always fatal to humans if not treated.

The wound may need stitches. If the edges of a laceration are unable to touch, or if there are any avulsions, the wound will need emergency medical attention. Wounds on the face or hands should be seen by a physician because of the likelihood of scarring and loss of function.

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