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First aid for dog bites


What should I do for a severe dog bite?

If the bite is severe or if you think it involves joints, tendons or bones, visit the accident and emergency (A&E) department in your local hospital. If the bite is actively bleeding, use a clean cloth to apply pressure to the wound and keep the wound elevated. If part of the body such as an ear, finger or toe has been bitten off, wash it in tap water and seal it in a container or polythene bag, then place the container or bag in a tub of iced water. This will keep it cool while you take it to hospital in case there's a chance it can be re-attached with reconstructive surgery. Call for an ambulance without delay if you think the person bitten is in shock.

How will a severe wound be treated?

After being cleaned, any dead or damaged tissue will be removed. If there is excessive blood loss, the wound will be closed with stitches, otherwise it will be left open to make it easier to clean to prevent infection.

Depending on the wound, additional treatments may be necessary to repair damage to muscles, tendons, nerves, bones or joints, or to repair damage to a facial wound or areas of reduced blood flow, such as the ear or nose. For particularly complex injuries, reconstructive surgery may be necessary.

Will a dog bite need any medication?

If the doctor believes there is an increased risk of infection, such as bites to the hands, feet or face, or if there is a severe injury, a seven-day course of antibiotics may be prescribed. 

Can a dog bite cause tetanus?

Tetanus is a potentially fatal infection that affects the nervous system and muscles. If the skin is broken from a dog bite it can allow the bacteria that causes tentanus, Clostridium tetani, to enter the skin. Symptoms appear after four to 21 days and include muscle stiffness and spasms, especially in your jaw muscles, hence its other name - lockjaw.

Children should already be immunised against tetanus, with five doses routinely given across the UK as part of the NHS childhood immunisation programme. If you are an adult and are unsure if you have been fully immunised, seek advice from your GP's surgery. You will be advised whether or not you need a booster injection. People with bites at risk of infection by tetanus can be treated with tetanus immunoglobulin (TIG), which gives immediate short-term protection against the infection.

Can a dog bite cause rabies?

Rabies is another potentially fatal infection that affects the nervous system. It is rare in the UK, with all cases reported since 1946 being imported. However, if you travel to another country, it is possible to get rabies from an animal bite, or even just a scratch. Africa, Asia and India, and central and South America have the most cases of rabies and some cases have been reported in Eastern Europe.

If you need treatment to prevent the development of rabies you'll be given a dose of rabies immunoglobulin and five doses of the vaccine. Sometimes only the vaccine is given if exposure is uncertain.

WebMD Medical Reference

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