More than 4.5 million dog bites are reported in the United States each year. Knowing how to treat a dog bite is important if you or someone you know ends up being a victim of a bite. Treatment varies from disinfecting smaller wounds to requiring reconstructive surgery for more severe injuries and multiple wounds. The majority of these bites occur from family pets or those the victim is familiar with. Here’s an overview of what steps you can take if a bite occurs.
What to Do After a Dog Bite
Dog bites often come as a surprise to the victim. While some breeds are well-known for their aggressive behavior, a number of factors can cause almost any dog to bite. It’s difficult to know what a dog is thinking or feeling. Something that triggers fear and aggression may not be that obvious to you. Sometimes a dog will decide to bite because they don’t feel well and they don’t want anyone to bother them.
Young children are often the victims of dog bites and men are more likely to get dog bites than women. The small size of a young child makes them especially vulnerable to bites. Even minor bites can result in more damage.
Whatever provoked the dog in the first place could result in a continued attack. The first thing to do is to get the dog bite victim away from the dog and in a safe place. Then, you can evaluate the dog bite wounds and determine the best approach to treatment.
When you become a dog bite victim, you need to get the right treatment for your injuries right away. The steps you take to treat the wound can minimize your risk of infection and other issues. Never try to shrug off a dog bite to keep from hurting the dog owner’s feelings. Any dog bite has the potential to be dangerous and even life-threatening.
Dogs have sharp, pointed teeth designed to tear flesh apart. Even a simple “nip” can puncture the skin and carry bacteria inside the wound. If a dog bites you hard enough to puncture the skin even if he is only playing, you need to treat the wound like you would any other bite. Even minor bites aren’t really minor when there’s a risk to your health.
Treating Minor Bites at Home
- Examine the bite or have someone else do it for you. Determine whether the wound appears deep or covers a large area of your skin. If tissue is torn loose or there is severe bleeding or apparent damage to the bones, get urgent medical treatment.
- Wash minor wounds with soap and water for several minutes. The risk of infection is even greater when a wound doesn’t bleed because it doesn’t carry the germs back outside. Washing the area will help remove any germs that could cause infection. If you have antibacterial soap, use that. Otherwise, use whatever kind you have available. This is a very important step that you shouldn’t skip even if it stings.
- If the wound continues to bleed after cleaning it, apply pressure to it with a clean cloth or gauze. Once the bleeding slows or stops, cover the wound with a bandage. If the bleeding doesn’t slow enough to bandage it after fifteen minutes, seek immediate medical attention.
- Apply antibiotic ointment like Neosporin or Bacitracin to the area.
- Place a bandage over the bite as soon as you apply the antibiotic cream. Apply the bandage snugly but not so tight that it restricts circulation or causes discomfort.
- Change the bandage after showering or whenever it becomes soiled. Wash the area and reapply the antibiotic cream each time you change the bandage.
The steps you should take after treating minor wounds depend on a number of factors. It’s always a good idea to have the bite checked out by a healthcare provider to ensure the damage isn’t worse than you think. People with certain health conditions are at a greater risk of developing an infection and other complications. Seek medical attention for minor bites if any of the following applies to you:
- Liver Disease
- Any condition for which you take medications that weaken your immune system
The next step is to find out the dog’s immunization history if at all possible. If the dog’s owner isn’t forthcoming with the information or you don’t know who the dog’s owner is, you may have to take rabies shots. Although rabies has been virtually eradicated in this country, there are some animals that still carry the disease. There is no room for guesswork when it comes to protecting yourself against the disease. Like tetanus, which is sometimes spread through dog bites, there is no stopping the advancement of the disease once you have it.
If the dog that bites you is a stray and animal control is able to locate it, the dog will need to be observed for rabies. If animal control can’t locate the dog, you will probably need to take rabies shots. The process for reporting dog bites differs from state-to-state. Contact law enforcement or the animal control center in your area to learn the correct process to follow after a dog bites you.
Treating Major and/or Multiple Dog Bite Wounds
Deeper wounds carry the bacteria deeper and increase the risk of infection. At the same time, they can potentially damage the muscle, nerves, tendons, or bones below the skin. Examine the bites to see if fat, muscle, or bone is visible. Are there wide tears or those with jagged edges?
Severe bites may cause damage to an artery. If blood is spurting from the wound, apply pressure and get immediate medical attention. Use a clean towel to apply steady pressure until you see the doctor. You should also seek medical treatment for wounds larger than one or two centimeters or any bite to the head or neck.
Any of the severe wounds listed above require immediate medical attention. The best approach is often to go to the emergency room of your local hospital or to an urgent treatment center. Once you receive emergency care, you can schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor to consider any future treatment. The most important thing right after the bite is to get the wound(s) cleaned, disinfected, and trimmed to reduce your risk of infection and disease and to encourage healing.
What to Expect in the Emergency Room
The doctor will clean the wound with a surgical disinfectant. Sutures may be needed to stop the bleeding and/or to bring the edges of the wound together. Bites to the face are often sutured to reduce the impact of the scar. The doctor may elect not to suture those on less noticeable parts of the body to encourage healing. Closing a wound with stitches reduces the formation of scar tissue but it also increases the risk of infection.
The doctor may need to remove damaged tissue whether the wound is sutured or not. If there is potential damage to bones, the doctor will order x-rays.
The most severe dog bites, which cause extensive skin or tissue damage or loss, require surgical treatment. A bite to the face is most likely to require reconstructive surgery. Preventing an infection can reduce the need for plastic surgery, making initial treatment even more important to your physical and psychological well-being. Dog bite victims with visible scars often undergo psychological conditions including depression and PTSD.
The doctor will probably check your tetanus status to determine if you need a booster shot. Tell the doctor what you know about the dog’s rabies vaccination status. Depending on your state and the laws that apply to dog bites, the healthcare provider may report the bite to the health department, animal control office, or other organization. He may also begin rabies shots if you don’t know that the dog’s vaccinations are up-to-date.
The doctor may not wait to see if an infection develops to treat your dog bite. If you are at a high risk for infection, they will give you antibiotics to take at home. You will need to continue changing your bandages over the course of treatment until your wounds heal. The doctor will tell you how frequently to change the bandages and whether you need to continue applying antibiotic cream or other treatments to the wounds.
If you do develop an infection in spite of your best efforts at dog bite treatment, you may have to go into the hospital for IV treatment. Prior to treatment, the healthcare provider will take a culture to determine the exact nature of the infection. Depending on the type of antibiotic administered and the severity of your infection, you can expect to stay in the hospital anywhere from 24 hours to several days or weeks.
Any dog bite will be painful to some degree. Those that get infected are more painful, often reducing the bite victim’s use of the affected body part. Although children are often bitten on the face, adults frequently get dog bites on their hands and arms. The pain and loss of movement caused by a dog bite can interfere with their ability to work for some time.
Who Pays for Dog Bite Treatments?
Getting treatment after any dog bite that penetrates the skin is essential for your physical and mental health. Never let concerns over finances be your guide for getting medical care.
The owner of the dog that bit you is liable for your medical expenses. In most cases, the dog owner’s home insurance policy includes dog bites in their coverage. That means, if your elderly aunt’s dog bit you, there’s no reason not to pursue compensation. The insurance company is responsible for your compensation.
If the dog owner doesn’t have homeowner’s insurance, getting compensation is more challenging. If the dog’s owner is not forthcoming with their insurance information or in offering any help, you may need to get a dog bite attorney.
Most dog bites are from dogs that the victim is familiar with. Bites from strays are rare and nearly impossible to resolve. If you can’t find the owner of the dog that bit you, there is no way to hold them accountable for the dog’s actions.
If you have health insurance, it will cover some of the cost of your dog bite treatment. However, expect to have many items that are not covered show up on your medical bills. You must also cover the cost of your deductibles and copays for every diagnostic and treatment you receive. Even with health insurance, the average cost of dog bite treatment of more than $37,000 could end up costing you thousands out-of-pocket.
Serious dog bites that require extensive hospital stays and one or more surgeries can run into the hundreds of thousands for treatment. They also result in the bite victim not being able to work and earn an income.
If you require surgery for repairs, insurance companies aren’t always willing to acknowledge the difference between plastic surgery and reconstructive surgery. That means, you may not have coverage for severe scars or disfigurements whether you require one or multiple surgeries.
If you get bitten by a stray and incur wounds severe enough to require medical treatment, ask the hospital about any special programs they offer. Some hospitals offer help to patients without insurance or those who don’t have adequate insurance to get the treatment they need.
If you know the owner of the dog that bit you and need help getting compensation from them or their insurance company, get a dog bite lawyer to help. They know your rights and will help you get the compensation you need to pay for dog bite treatment. You deserve to get the care you need to heal and get back to your life.
Contact Batta Fulkerson to learn more about filing a dog bite injury claim in San Diego. We know the financial and emotional burden a dog bite injury can have on you and every area of your life. You have rights and our team of experienced dog bite attorneys is dedicated to defending them to get the best resolution for your case.