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How To Treat Dog Bites

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Updated October 01, 2011

As much as humans interact with canines, dog bites are common, especially in children. Responding to a dog bite should always start with the safety of all involved, including the victim, the rescuer, and if possible, the dog.
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Respond immediately

Here's How:

  1. Stay Safe. Secure the dog or the victim. Move one away from the other. If the dog's owner is around, instruct him or her to secure the dog. If not, move the victim to a safe location. Dogs may bite because their territory is threatened. Don't start any treatment until there is a reasonable expectation that the dog won't attack again.

  2. If you are not the victim, practice universal precautions and wear personal protective equipment if available.

  3. Control any bleeding by following the appropriate steps. Avoid using a tourniquet unless there is severe bleeding that cannot be controlled any other way.

  4. 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.

  5. Cover the wound with a clean, dry dressing. You can put antibiotic ointment on the wound before covering. Watch for signs of infection:
    • Redness
    • Swelling
    • Heat
    • Weeping pus

  6. 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, and that is often initiated by contact with a doctor.

  7. Any unidentified dog runs the risk of carrying rabies. If the dog cannot be identified and the owner cannot show proof of rabies vaccination, the victim must seek medical attention. Rabies is always fatal to humans if not treated.

  8. 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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