Even friendly dogs can get spooked now and again. If you or your child have had a run-in with a scared or aggressive dog, you know that a bite happens fast. A little planning ahead can go a long way to make sure that you react the right way in the moment.
To understand the dangers and treatment for dog bites, we reached out to Jasjot Johar, MD, an emergency medicine specialist at Banner Health in Loveland, CO. He explained five simple steps to follow if you are bitten by a dog. Even for those experienced with dogs, he suggested reviewing these steps to ensure the fastest recovery.
1. Take a deep breath
“When an animal bites, it’s easy to panic,” said Dr. Johar. “Even a small to moderate dog bite can be very painful, due to the crushing and tearing nature of the injury. Stay calm, assess the wound, ask for help if needed and take action.”
Keep your cool by controlling your breathing. Remove yourself from the situation and look for someone to assist you if you need it. If possible, speak with the owner to verify that the dog is up to date with rabies vaccinations. Of course, you may not have time to speak with the owner of the dog that bit you and, in some cases, an owner may not be around. Dr. Johar assured that rabies treatments can be given when those factors are unknown.
2. Clean the wound
Use soap and plenty of water to wash the dog bite wound. You will need to scrub thoroughly to reduce the risk of infection. Dr. Johar explained that infection is a real concern, no matter how serious the dog bite. Don’t hesitate to get medical attention at an urgent care or emergency department.
3. Apply pressure
Use a clean cloth to apply pressure to the wound. In some cases, the bite may have torn through veins and arteries. If bleeding doesn’t stop within a few minutes, go directly to an emergency department.
4. Apply antibiotics and a bandage
Minor wounds can be treated at home. After careful cleaning, treat small cuts with antibiotic creams and a bandage. Larger wounds could require stitches, gauze or tape from a medical expert. “Regardless of how (or if) it is closed, it’s important to care for the wound afterwards. Wash the area at least once a day with soap and water. Special wound cleaners are not needed and avoid peroxide as it won’t be beneficial. Apply antibiotic ointment (a light covering) and change the bandages once a day or sooner if they get wet or soiled”.
5. Get help
Moderate to severe dog bites may need to be treated at an urgent care or emergency department. Dr. Johar explained, “If your wound is deep, bleeding persistently or if you were bit in the face or hands, it’s time to visit a medical professional. You may need stitches, prescription medication or other treatments, including a tetanus shot, that you simply can’t get at home. Don’t risk prolonged injury or serious infection by putting off caring for a dog bite.”
Dog bite prevention
If you spot a loose dog, proceed carefully. Lost dogs are often agitated and scared. Even your friendliest body language could scare the dog into running away or possibly attacking. If the dog shows signs of fear, your best bet will be to contact the police or animal control while keeping the dog in sight.
For dog lovers, this sort of restraint can be very difficult. Especially if the dog looks scared or is in danger. Remember, if you want to help the dog, you must also stay calm and safe. Acting rashly could just put you and the dog at more risk.
Teach children not to approach strange pets
If you’ve got a furry friend at home, your kids may be less cautious around dogs in other settings. Teach good, safe manners to your children by explaining that not all dogs play the same way and that you should always ask the owner if it’s ok to meet a new dog. Be present with your children to be sure that they are being gentle and treating the dog with respect.
Even loud noises or sudden movements can cause a good dog to panic. Some dogs that are mild-mannered at home can become defensive quickly, protecting themselves or their owners from perceived dangers. If you are playing at a park or walking on a public street, make sure your child isn’t causing undue stress to a dog.