How to Treat a Dog Bite

In the United States, more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. More than 800,000 people have sought medical treatment for their injuries. Dogs can bite for several reasons. They may be afraid, sick or distressed. They may also bite because of aggression. Whatever the cause, it’s important to know how to deal with a dog bite. Without proper treatment, the risk of being bitten is high.

This article explains the risks associated with dog bites. It outlines basic first aid for a bite and when to contact your doctor for treatment.

first aid steps

First, make sure the attacking dog is safe and the person being bitten is away from the animal. Once the person is safe, continue first aid.

If you are unable to protect the dog (or if it continues to attack), contact an animal control center or police immediately.

Treating dog bites should always Start with the safety of all involved, including the victim, rescuers, and, if possible, the dog. Be careful when starting any treatment until there is a reasonable expectation that the dog will not attack again.

Here are tips on how to treat a dog bite.

  • STAY SAFE: If you are a rescuer, take general precautions and wear personal protective equipment (if available).
  • Hemostasis: Bleeding can often be controlled when you make the area safe, especially if the patient can help maintain pressure. Follow appropriate steps to control any bleeding. Use a clean towel to apply pressure to the bite. Avoid using tourniquets unless there is severe bleeding that is uncontrollable in any other way.
  • Clean the wound: Once the bleeding is under control, clean the wound with soap and warm water. Don’t be afraid to clean the inside of the wound. Be sure to rinse off all soap or it will cause irritation later.
  • Cover the wound: Use a clean, dry dressing. You can apply antibiotic ointment to the wound before covering, but it is not required.
READ ALSO:  Difference Between Respiratory Arrest and Cardiac Arrest

Seek emergency medical care if the patient has multiple bites or bites to the face or hands.


The first step in caring for someone bitten by a dog is to make sure the surrounding area is safe and the dog is restrained if possible. Focus on stopping the bleeding and cleaning the wound thoroughly with soap and water.

when to see a doctor

If a dog breaks your skin, see your doctor within 24 hours so you can get proper care.

Consider going to the emergency room right away if the bite includes:

  • redness and swelling
  • pus coming out of the wound
  • deep or large wound
  • Bone or muscle can be seen
  • Bleeding after a few minutes

Wounds to the face or hands should be examined by a doctor as soon as possible, as scarring and loss of function may occur.

file a police report

Some areas have rules requiring you to report dog bites to local police or authorities so that dogs can be monitored. In these cases, the doctor may file a report of the injury.


If you go to the doctor, they will examine your wound to see if the bite was deep enough to require stitches. The injury will also be assessed to see if there is damage to muscles, nerves, tendons or even bones.

Your doctor may determine that you need urgent care if the edges of the wound are inaccessible or if there is any avulsion (that is, the tissue has completely torn apart).


A dog that bites the skin should always be checked by a doctor. If the wound doesn’t look serious, you can usually wait a day for it to be checked, but if it’s serious or appears on your face or hands, seek medical attention right away.


Once the bleeding is stopped and the bite is cleaned and covered, the wound needs to be monitored for infection. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, especially if there is a deep puncture wound. If you haven’t had a tetanus shot in five years, you may also need a tetanus shot.

Depending on the size of the bite and its location on your body, surgery may be necessary to repair muscle, ligament, or tissue.

Rabies Risk

There is a small risk of dogs carrying rabies.This is very rare, but if the dog cannot be identified or the pet owner cannot show proof of rabies vaccination, the patient must Seek medical attention. Rabies is usually fatal to humans if left untreated.

The bandage should be changed several times a day until the wound heals. It is also important to watch for signs of infection, including:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • fever or heat around the wound
  • pus


Treating dog bites requires basic first aid, including controlling the bleeding, cleaning and covering the wound, and watching for signs of infection. If the skin is broken, you should see a doctor within 24 hours. Other treatments may include antibiotics, sutures, or even surgery. Your doctor may also recommend a tetanus booster shot, or in rare cases a rabies shot.

VigorTip words

Dog bites are horrific injuries, but in many cases they can be treated at home initially. The key is to follow basic first aid procedures and then contact your doctor to avoid complications.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you clean dog bite wounds?

    Dog bites should be cleaned thoroughly. Running water over the wound for 5 to 10 minutes can wash away dirt and bacteria. After rinsing the bite, wash it with mild soap and water. Be sure to rinse thoroughly.

  • What to do if bitten by a dog?

    First, apply pressure to stop the bleeding. Then, clean the bite, making sure to get inside the wound. Cover the wound and contact your doctor to make an appointment to examine the bite.