Dogs, regardless of breed, can bite other dogs, animals, and people for lots of reasons —they could be startled, nervous, sick, or fearful. The dog can also be roughhousing too hard or guarding something or someone that they love. And while getting bitten by a dog can be a scary experience, it’s important to remain calm, treat the bite immediately, and figure out why it happened.
How do you treat a dog bite?
Look at the bite. Was it a quick nip or did it break the skin? In other words, is it a superficial or puncture wound?
If it’s a minor, superficial wound, clean it with water, soap, and hydrogen peroxide and apply a topical antibiotic and bandage to prevent infection.
If it’s a deep, puncture wound, apply direct pressure with a clean, dry cloth to stop the bleeding. If the bleeding stops, clean the bite with soap and water. (Pro tip: Do not use hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol on a puncture wound as that will only slow the healing process.) If the bleeding doesn’t stop – or you think a bone is broken – go to the doctor. And, of course, if you’re gushing blood or the bite is in your neck or head, call 911 immediately.
Beware of signs of infection. If there is any swelling, tenderness, pus or fluid discharge, inflammation, irritation, or redness, go to the doctor so he can test you for disease. While you’re there, talk to your doctor about a tetanus shot, especially if you haven’t gotten one in a while. Expect anything from antibiotics and blood tests to x-rays and stitches, depending on the severity of the bite.
Why did you get bitten?
If it’s your own dog or a dog that you’re familiar with, consider the circumstances and ask yourself some questions:
Were you playing and roughhousing or did it just happen out of nowhere?
Was he sleeping and was he startled awake?
Was he eating or playing with a toy? He may have some possessive or guarding behaviors that need to be handled.
Is this the first time or are the bites happening more frequently or getting more severe?
Is he sick? Dogs can lash out aggressively when they are sick because they don’t know how to effectively communicate that they’re not feeling too hot.
Because it’s your own dog or one that you’re around a lot, it’s important that you help him to never bite again. Assessing the situation and figuring out why he may have done it can help correct him and prevent it from happening again. Work with him, train him, and hire a professional if necessary.
And if someone else’s dog bites you – a dog from the dog park, for example – exchange contact info with the pet parent and treat the wound as aforementioned. Talk to her about the dog’s medical records and find out whether or not he is updated on vaccinations. Go to the doctor to get yourself checked out and cleaned up anyway, regardless of what she says. Contact animal control or the police if you feel threatened or concerned that it will happen again.
How do you prevent a dog bite?
Because dogs can bite at any time for any reason, it’s important to know how to treat a superficial or puncture wound. However, there are things to look for and ways to prevent a dog attack or bite.
Know his past. If you adopted or are planning on adopting your dog, talk to the shelter about his past and current behaviors. As heartbreaking as it is to hear about what happened to him, it may help you better understand how to treat, train, and act with him.
Don’t abuse him. Don’t be a terrible person. Don’t hit, kick, or neglect him. Love and treat your dog with kindness so he doesn’t lash out due to fear.
Avoid sick or unfamiliar animals. Never try to make contact, catch, or control an unfamiliar dog. Call animal control and let them handle it to avoid injury to yourself, the dog, or others.
Curb his biting habits early. If your puppy or new dog is teething or nipping, try to curb that behavior early, no matter or small or big the dog is or will become. If he thinks it’s acceptable now when he’s small and young, he will think it’s okay later when he’s older, bigger, and stronger.
Do not try to separate fighting dogs. If it’s happening at the dog park, let the dog’s owners handle it. And if your dog is involved, try to wait for the other owner to step in and grab his dog, too, so you don’t wind up getting bitten or attacked.
Let sleeping dogs lie. And nursing, playing, and eating dogs, too. If the dog has guarding issues, he may bite you if he’s possessive of his space or things.
Train your dog. The better behaved he is, the less likely he is to lash out aggressively.
Maintain vet visits and vaccinations. A healthy dog is a happy dog. If he’s sick or has an illness you are unaware of it, not only could he bite you, but he could also transmit a disease to you.
Understand his body language. If he’s uncomfortable or fearful, he may attempt to bite you. Look for flared, upright ears, if his fur is standing up on his back or tail, or if his body is tense or stiff. Some dogs even crouch or lay down – like you’re the prey and they’re the predator – before an attack. If he’s growling, lunging, barking, or showing his teeth, you should also stand back.
Spay or neuter your pet. Because dogs that are intact (not neutered) are more aggressive and more territorial than ones who have been altered.
Spend time with your dog. Dogs that are consistently left alone and neglected can become aggressive due to boredom. Spend time with your pup and socialize him. Help him be a part of the family – both in the home and out on outings – so he feels loved and valued.
Respect your pet. If you know he gets nervous or tense around certain people or places, keep him away from them. Forcing him to be around things that make him uncomfortable – whether it’s loud noises like fireworks or crowded places like markets – will only put him on the defensive.
Although dog bites can be painful and scary, they can be easily treated if they’re cleaned immediately. Depending on the wound severity or the state of the dog – whether he’s sick or rabid – it’s also smart to go to the doctor to prevent any possible infection from the bite. And while dog bites are never 100 percent preventable, they are less likely if you’re kind and respectful to dogs and leave unfamiliar ones alone.
Image: Raphael Schaller