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What to do if You are Bitten by a Dog

In the event of any dog bite, protect yourself by putting anything you might be carrying between you and the dog.What to do if you are bitten by a dog -- Altizer Law, P.C.

If you are knocked down, curl into a ball with your head tucked. Put your hands and arms over your ears and neck.

Wound Treatment

When you can get to a safe place, wash the wounds with soap and water.

Get medical help if the wound is bleeding uncontrollably, if there is any loss of function, if the bone or muscle is exposed, or if pain is extreme.

If the wound becomes red, painful, warm or swollen, or if you develop a fever, see a doctor.

Go to a doctor or emergency room if the bite is deep and it has been more than five years since you had a tetanus shot.

If the wound is deep, apply pressure with a clean, dry cloth to stop the bleeding. If you cannot stop the bleeding or if the victim feels faint or weak, call 911.

Dog bites (and animal bites) typically cause puncture wounds. Do NOT use hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, iodine or Mercurochrome on puncture wounds. Many puncture wounds do not need to be bandaged.

If the wound is open, if it is a gash or a tearing injury, you may use alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, iodine or Mercurochrome after washing the wound. Bandage the wound and go to the emergency room. However, do not use a steri-strip, a butterfly dressing, or any other bandage that would close the wounds.

If you do not visit the emergency room, contact your physician within 24 hours and ask about a tetanus shot or antibiotics.

Because there is a risk of contracting rabies from a dog bite or animal bite, contact your local animal control agency or the police department to report the incident if you don’t know if the animal has been vaccinated for rabies or if the dog (or other animal) is acting strangely or appears to be sick, or if the animal is foaming at the mouth.

This guidance about treating a dog bite wound is offered as a suggestion and a strong recommendation that you or your child should seek professional medical attention after a dog bite, preferably within 24 hours of the incident. It is not intended to replace professional medical attention.

Information to Gather

If you can do so, contact the owner of the dog and confirm that the dog has a current rabies vaccination. Get the following information:

  • Rabies vaccine license number
  • Name of the veterinarian who vaccinated the dog
  • Dog’s owner’s name, address, and phone number
  • Pictures of the dog (if possible and reasonable)
  • Pictures of the site where the bite occurred
  • Pictures of the bite wound both before it is treated and after
  • As soon as reasonable, the victim should write down everything s/he can remember about the dog bite incident
  • Obtain written recollections from anyone who witnessed the attack or bite.
  • Gather names and contact information for every witness
  • One reason for seeking immediate medical attention is to obtain documentation of the cause and extent of the injuries
  • Document all medical treatment and expenses
  • If the bite is serious or if the bite is to the face, retain an attorney immediately. If you are uncertain about needing an attorney, call us. We will help you evaluate the nature and extent of the injuries, assess the situation in which the bite occurred, and determine the potential for a successful suit for compensation.

What Parents Should Watch For in Child Victims

The main things to watch for and be concerned about after initial treatment for a dog bite are:

  1. Infection. Be alert for pain, redness around the bite wound, or red streaks spreading away from the wound. If these symptoms are observed, see your doctor.
  2. Crush Injury. Larger, powerful dogs have tremendous power in their jaws. Crush injuries are broken bones or scar tissue and compression of the nerves in the soft tissue near the bite wound. If you notice any disability – favoring the limb that was bitten or weakness in the limb – take your child to a doctor with experience treating crush injuries. Observation and quick response could be the difference between a treatable injury and permanent damage.
  3. Scars. Dog bite wounds can produce scars. Some people, and some injuries, scar very seriously. You should understand that personal injury attorneys experienced with dog bite cases will not begin to resolve your case until the scars have “matured” – typically at least 9 months after the injury. If plastic surgery is indicated, your surgeon likely will not be willing to offer a prognosis for at least one year. When the victim is a very young child (under 5 years of age), it will be hard to predict how the wound will heal because the skin of young children rejuvenates in ways that make prediction very difficult.
  4. Emotional Injury. Most children will experience some emotional injury after the trauma of a dog bite. Some children will be afraid of dogs (and sometimes other animals) or will be afraid to go outside. Some children stop talking or start wetting the bed. Some cry and stay close to their parents for protection. Some hit their siblings. These responses typically resolve in time. But occasionally there will be long-term emotional scars from the incident. If the victim is not overcoming the trauma or its emotional impact, it is often wise to seek psychological or psychiatric treatment for the child. 

Some people become extremely aware of their scars, especially if the scars are particularly disfiguring or painful. These people may become withdrawn, or extremely self-conscious. Sometimes, when others are focused on the scars or misunderstand the cause of the scars, they may ask painful questions or exclude the dog bite victim from social interactions. In addition to any recommended plastic or reconstructive surgery, psychological or psychiatric treatment may be advisable.

Parents should be aware that the way they react to the event, the injuries, any scars that may develop, and the necessary treatments will help to shape the child’s response to the incident. A positive attitude and an ability to frequently help the child retain hope, as well as helping the child accept immediate and long-term impact of the incident will go far in helping the child recover from fear, depression, and other possible emotional reactions.

If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog, seek medical help, gather any information you can, and call Altizer Law, P.C. We have helped many people obtain just compensation for their injuries.