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First aid for dog bites

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Who is most at risk of a dog bite?

In general 80% of bites are dog bites and are more likely to occur in children. Despite media coverage, fatalities are rare. 

The NHS reports that dog bites are most common in children between five to nine years old, especially boys. The Blue Dog Trust is a not-for-profit organisation set up to promote the education of children and their relationships with dogs. The Trust says that the majority of accidents between children and dogs occur within the home and with known dogs. The dog is more likely to be either a family dog or a neighbour's or friend's dog. As stray dogs tend be wary of people and therefore keep their distance, they are less likely to be the source of a bite.

Will a child bitten by a dog develop any fears?

About one in 10 children with a moderate dog bite and one in four with a severe dog bite develop post-traumatic stress disorder ( PTSD). This psychological condition can lead to children becoming nervous and scared around dogs and lead to repeated nightmares. For a few months the child may be scared of the dark or not want to be left alone. The child may refuse to go outside alone, become shy with family or friends - or aggressive - and will lose interest in school activities and games. If the symptoms of PTSD don't disappear after a few months the child may need medical help such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a type of talking therapy that will help the child to become more positive.

What can I do to prevent my child being bitten by a dog?

Because young children cannot understand a dog's body language and may even misinterpret a dog that is snarling as a dog that is smiling, they should never be left alone with a dog, regardless of the breed of dog or its behaviour in the past. Like many animals, dogs have a strong notion of personal space, so teach your child to always allow a dog to have its personal boundaries.

Knowing what might trigger a dog to bite can help you to avoid a bite. A dog will bite if it interprets a movement, such as invasion of its territory, as a hostile action. This can occur when a dog is disturbed while sleeping, eating or caring for its puppies, as well as when someone is running or jogging, screaming or shouting near the dog. Sometimes a bite is a friendly playtime nip by an over-excited young dog. If a dog is sick or in pain, be cautious as it can react in an unusual manner.

Are there any signs that indicate a dog might bite?

The dog may give signals at first saying 'leave me alone'. These include licking their lips, yawning, turning its head or walking away. If a dog becomes aggressive and is prepared to bite, the following may happen:

  • The dog will bare its teeth
  • The hairs on the dog's back will rise
  • The dog will stare directly at you
  • The dog's ears will move either back against its head or forwards
  • The dog's legs will stiffen.

If you think a dog might bite, do not run away but stay calm. If you can, try to get something between you and the dog. Stand still with your feet together, your arms against your chest and your fists below your neck. Do not look directly in the dog's eyes as this will be interpreted as a sign of aggression, but downwards and to one side. By standing still, the dog will hopefully lose interest, at which point you may be able to back away slowly.

If the dog knocks you down, lie with your face downwards and fists behind your neck, with your forearms protecting your ears. Keep still in this position until the dog moves away.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on March 03, 2017

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