What to Do After a Dog Bite Injury

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Being bitten by a dog can be a scary and traumatic experience. While most dog bites are relatively minor, they can potentially cause serious injury and permanent damage. Knowing how to respond quickly and properly treat dog bites is crucial for reducing the physical and emotional impact. This guide covers the key steps to take right after a dog bite injury occurs.

Seek Medical Attention ASAP

The first priority is getting professional medical care, even for wounds that appear minor. Dog bites carry a high risk of infection because of bacteria in dogs’ mouths. Seek care promptly from your doctor, urgent care clinic, or emergency room depending on the severity. Signs that urgent medical care is needed:

  • Deep bite wounds
  • Bleeding that won’t stop
  • Injuries to the eyes, face, neck, or genitals
  • Severe pain, redness, swelling or bruising
  • Difficulty using the injured area normally

Healthcare providers will clean the wound thoroughly, assess for muscle or nerve damage, stitch deep lacerations if necessary, and prescribe antibiotics to prevent infections like rabies or tetanus. Be sure to follow all medication instructions as prescribed.

Stop Bleeding and Clean the Wound

For less serious bites before you can get medical care, follow these important steps:

  • Wash hands with soap and water before and after touching wounds.
  • Stop bleeding by applying direct pressure with a clean cloth or bandage.
  • Rinse the bite wound gently with cool, clean water to remove dirt and debris. Use mild soap if needed.
  • Do not scrub or reopen closed wounds.
  • Pat dry with a clean towel and apply antibiotic ointment if available.
  • Cover with a sterile bandage or clean cloth to protect from infection.
  • Change dressings and reapply ointment daily after cleaning the wound.

Avoid using hydrogen peroxide or alcohol which can damage tissue. Over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help relieve pain and swelling.

Watch for Signs of Infection

Monitor bite wounds closely for warning signs of infection for several days after the injury:

  • Increased swelling, redness, pain near the wound
  • Pus or foul-smelling drainage from the injury
  • Red streaks extending from the wound
  • Fever and flu-like symptoms

Seek prompt medical treatment if any of these infection symptoms develop. Serious infections require prescription antibiotic therapy.

Get a Tetanus Shot

Dog bites often introduce tetanus bacteria into the wound. Check that your tetanus vaccine is up-to-date. Adults should get a tetanus booster shot every 10 years. If the vaccine has lapsed, your doctor may prescribe a booster within 48 hours of the bite to prevent tetanus.

Consider Rabies Vaccination

While rare, contact with rabid animals is a serious health risk requiring preventive treatment. If the biting dog cannot be reliably quarantined and monitored for rabies, your doctor will likely prescribe a series of rabies vaccine shots called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). The first dose should be given within 3 days of the bite. Though expensive, rabies PEP is extremely effective protection.

Rest and Elevate the Injured Area

To reduce swelling and pain, elevate the bitten arm or leg above heart level when possible. Avoid overusing the injured limb as it heals. Take over-the-counter pain relievers as needed, along with cool compresses to minimize bruising and discomfort. Get plenty of rest to help the healing process.

Emotionally Recover from the Trauma

Being attacked and bitten by a dog is distressing both physically and psychologically. Many bite victims experience lingering fear or anxiety around dogs afterwards. Don’t hesitate to seek counseling or therapy to process the trauma. Having a support system of loved ones to talk through the attack can help greatly in recovering emotionally.

While most dog bites are accidental and many pets never bite, it is still vital to learn how to interact safely around unfamiliar dogs. Being informed and taking proper precautions can help prevent bite injuries in the future.