First aid for dog bites
Most dog bites are minor and simple to treat but what should you do for a severe dog bite?
Like most types of animal bites - including those from humans - dog bites can usually be treated with simple first aid at home to prevent the bite from being infected, which is the most common complication. Animal saliva contains millions of bacteria that can lead to an infection.
Severe bites, however, may require a hospital visit. According to the Home and Leisure Accident Surveillance System (HASS/LASS), 69,000 people in the UK attended an accident and emergency (A&E) department in a hospital in 2002 as a consequence of a dog bite.
What kind of wound is made by a dog bite?
When a dog bites, the front teeth are used to grasp the victim, while the other teeth pull at the surrounding skin as they bite. The result can be a deep hole in the skin causing a puncture wound, made by the front teeth, and a jagged wound or laceration (cut) with a scraped section of skin, or abrasion. As children are smaller, the neck and facial area, especially the lips, nose and cheek, are the most common areas for them to be bitten. The hands, arms, legs and feet are more commonly bitten in adults.
How should I treat a minor dog bite?
If you or someone you know is bitten by a dog, more than likely it will be a minor bite that can be treated at home by following these steps:
- Clean the wound immediately: run it under warm water for a few minutes to ensure it is thoroughly cleaned.
- Encourage bleeding from the wound: if it is not already bleeding, gently squeeze the wound to encourage it to bleed, which will help prevent bacteria entering the wound.
- Provide pain relief: take over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce pain and inflammation.
Because there is a risk of infection the NHS also recommends seeking medical advice for a dog bite, unless it's a very minor one.
How will I know if a dog bite has become infected?
If you think a dog bite is infected, seek medical advice immediately because occasionally an infected animal bite can lead to blood poisoning (sepsis), an infection of the inner lining of the heart ( endocarditis) or an infection of the outer layers of the brain ( meningitis). Signs indicating an infection include:
- The wound becomes more painful
- Redness and swelling around the bite
- Fluid or pus leaking from the bite
- A fever with a temperature of 38°C or above and shivers
- Swollen lymph glands.
When should I seek medical help?
Always get medical help if there are symptoms of an infection (see above) or if the bite is to the hands, feet, a joint, tendon or ligament, the face or scalp, the genitals, or the nose or ears. If there is a pre-existing condition - including diabetes, HIV or a liver disease - that makes the person more susceptible to infection, or if the person is being given medical treatment such as chemotherapy that weakens the immune system, it is important to get medical advice.
Your doctor can treat a bite at the doctor's surgery if it's not too severe, or you can go to a walk-in centre or a local minor injuries unit.