What to do When a Dog Bites

Emergency first aid tips for treating injuries sustained from a dog bite.

What to do When a Dog BitesPhoto: Verkhovynets Taras/ShutterStock


Bites from dogs and other animals carry a serious risk of infection as mouths are full of bacteria. The force of the bite can cause bruising and lacerated wounds and can carry germs deep into the tissues. If the wound is small, you can clean it yourself. Large, severe or deep bites may require surgery as underlying structures, such as tendons or nerves, are likely to be damaged. Warning: Animal bites (particularly dog bites) carry the risk of rabies, which can be passed to humans. Antirabies treatment may need to be given immediately.

Assessing a dog bite

Seek medical advice for all but the most minor bites, especially bites to a hand. Symptoms and signs include:

  • * Bruising caused by crushing from the teeth.
  • * Puncture wounds in the pattern of the jaw.
  • * Severe lacerations.
  • * Symptoms and signs of shock may be evident if the blood loss is severe.
  • * Tingling or loss of feeling and movement if the tendons or nerves are damaged.

Responding to an animal bite

  1. Move the casualty to safety. Move the casual to a safe place away from the animal. If it is a dog, shut it in a separate room.
  2. Control bleeding. Place a sterile wound dressing or clean pad on the wound, apply direct pressure and raise the affected area.
  3. Wash small bites. If the bite is small, wash the area thoroughly with soap and water if available, or alcohol-free cleansing wipes. Gently pat dry with gauze swabs, then cover with a sterile dressing secured with a bandage.
  4. Take the casualty to a hospital. If the wound is severe or deep, take the casualty to the hospital or call emergency services. The casualty may need surgery. A course of antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent infection.
  5. Monitor the casualty. If the casualty becomes generally unwell with a high temperature within a week of the bite, advise them to seek medical advice urgently, especially if the wound was treated at home. Find out if the casualty has been immunized against tetanus.

Safety with dogs

  • Children and dogs. Children are often the victims of dog bites. Never leave a young child alone with a dog. The defensive reaction of an irritated dog is to bite, even when the child bothers it unintentionally. A loved family pet can be as serious a threat to a child as an unknown dog.
  • Dealing with an aggressive dog. Do not run away from the dog. Use anything at hand, such as a stick, to protect yourself and others. Back away slowly until you can get to safety.
  • Reporting a dog bite to the police. You should report an incident with an aggressive dog to the police.

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