==> What to do when it happens - to you or someone else:

Speed is of the essence, so better be prepared!

Dog Bite Treatment

When you or someone you care about gets bitten by a dog, immediate treatment can make the difference between life and death. Or, less dramatic, between being more careful in future or carrying a disease into the future. Yes!

dog bite treatmentDog Bite Statistics we discussed already in the Periodical Are German Shepherds Dangerous?, so you know that dog bites occur much more often than most dog owners would believe/admit.

Thus it is mere common sense to accept the need to be prepared for when we may have to treat a dog bite: on ourselves, our kid, friend, relative, neighbor, or a stranger - inflicted by our own dog or, at this stage of your MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG subscription, more likely inflicted by someone else's dog.

Also note that in some states the failure to render assistance is a criminal offence. And your defense will be considered particularly weak if:

1as an adult, you could be expected to know basic first-aid measures and emergency procedures

2a child was bitten

3it was your dog that bit someone

This is what a Top dog expert says:
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!

And, regardless of any legal requirement, it is pure ethics to help a human injured by a canine (by any dog) - whether on a hike in the countryside, out on the street, or at home. Since most people wouldn't know what to do, you can shine and impress: Show them that you are a responsible dog owner who masters every situation - even with their dog. ;-)

Staying calm and acting swift is most important

So, in this Periodical:

  • Dog Bite Symptoms and Injury Severity
  • Dog Bite Infection
  • Dog Bite Antibiotics
  • Dog Bite Rabies
  • Dog Bite First Aid
  • Dog Bites Treatment

Dog Bite Symptoms and Injury Severity

facial injuryDog bite treatment depends on the severity of the injury and - like medics - we will distinguish the injury severity by looking at the dog bite symptoms. However, unlike medics, we will not classify a wound into abrasion, laceration, puncture, crushing or avulsion. Instead, for us here, laceration always means a flesh wound. A wound that destroyed the skin and thus leads to bleeding (even if only minor bleeding).

Minor Injury

Teethmarks, no laceration.

Note: Typically, this is the worst that can happen with nipping (as opposed to biting).

Significant Injury

Small laceration with minor bleeding. Possibly dog bite infection!

Note: Any form of laceration is a clear indication that the dog was biting (as opposed to nipping). This is why - if it's our own dog - our response and training requirement is very different in this case (see prior Periodicals or, in detail, the Puppy 101 since edition 8).

Major Injury

One or more large lacerations with major bleeding. Ruptures to ligaments, tendons, nerves, muscles, or blood vessels likely. Crashed bones possible. Dog bite infection common. Often some form of permanent disfigurement of the victim!

Dog Bite Infection

Both a significant injury and a major injury can lead to dog bite infection - which may indeed become life-threatening, depending on the dog's state of health. In most cases however, the dog bite infection leads to a temporary disease which is directly related to the pathogens affecting our own body, or which results from side effects of the medical treatment we choose (or accept), see next.

Open wound infections are so common because dog bites inoculate pathogens deep into the victim's tissue. Indeed, with dog bites, the incidence of infection is 15 times greater than that of other lacerations(!), because the canine organism is more virulent and canine saliva typically contains a high contamination with bacteria.

dangerousAlthough it is a fact that dogs that receive regular Mouth Care are much less likely to inflict an infection upon biting, if you or your children get bitten by someone else's dog, you can 'safely' expect to contract an infection - since most dogs do not receive Mouth Care (ever)!

Of particular worry are rabies infection (see second next), Streptococcus (a bacterial infection that can lead to anything from sore throat or swollen lymph nodes, to rheumatic fever and even kidney failure), Staphilococcus (a bacterial infection that - in its worst case - can lead to lung failure or heart failure), and Pasteurella (a bacterial infection that can lead to anything from cellulitis to meningitis, pneumonia, eye infections and urinary tract infections).

Basic rule of thumb:

  • If you feel the wound looks severe
  • or if there is minor bleeding (slow)
  • or if a child was bitten
  • or if the victim has a weakened immune system (from illness, medicaments, or pregnancy)
  • or if the bite was to the hand or face

then do expect an infection - and thus do see the doctor without delay!

Signs of Infection

In the cases mentioned above, do not wait until you are able to see signs of infection. Treatment is most effective (and cheapest) if you seek medical advice before you see the infection.

In all other cases, where you decide in favor of home treatment of the dog bite, you must of course know the signs of an infection - to thwart the risk to contract one:

  • increasing redness around the wound
  • swelling around the wound
  • a feeling of warmth, or indeed cold, near the wound
  • oozing pus
  • fever
  • visual impairment
  • nausea
  • headache

If you notice two or more of these symptoms with yourself or with your child after being bitten, then it is highly likely that the dog bite led to an infection.

Once you suspect an infection, I would recommend that you seek a doctor's diagnosis immediately, ie don't wait for it to worsen - like we all tend to do...

However: Don't make the mistake to then blindly accept any treatment the doc suggests. Hear the diagnosis, and apply your common sense first. If in doubt, better get a second opinion, instead of thinking: "Ah, costs too much, I'll just do what this doc says".

For example, thorough saline irrigation of the wound is much more sensible than antibiotic irrigation (see below). Likewise, applying an aseptic band-aid/plaster or dressing/bandage that allows the wound to "breathe" underneath to heal by itself may take a few days longer than if the doc sutures the wound, but:

  • the risk of infection multiplies with suturing
  • bad sutures leave marks that remain visible forever, while a clean wound typically heals entirely if left to itself (unless the bite wound is large or deep)

Note: If you are worried about scarring, you can start to apply Sudocrem on the day the wound is closing, and then up until at least a week after full closure (a flimsy coating 2 or 3 times daily). In most cases, this will prevent scarring entirely.

Dog Bite Antibiotics

Like vets, some human docs treat any laceration immediately with antibiotics, in the hope to prevent an infection from the dog bite. However, prophylactic administration of antibiotics makes no sense:

  • Many pathogens are resistant to certain stems of antibiotics. Thus, as long as there is no clear indication of the actual pathogen and a proven path to healing, your chosen (or accepted) prophylaxis may do more harm than it may help.
  • Antibiotics weaken the body's natural immune defense, and prophylactic antibiotics may even prevent that the immune defense kicks in at all.
  • Antibiotics always have severe side effects that are often chronic in nature - and typically these become apparent only later. Don't trade the possibility of a serious temporary infection for the certainty of long-term health complications!

I am not outright against antibiotics, but the above and further reasons have caused strong controversy regarding antibiotic therapy (including for dog bites), thus that overall educated doctors (or "holistic") no longer prescribe antibiotics. More proof of course here.

In fact, we can easily identify the quality of any vet and people doctor by reviewing this:

1Has the physician evidence of an infection

2that is caused by an identified bacterium

3that is known to respond well to a particular antibiotic stem

4but not to known natural remedies.

This is rare.

Again: This is rare.

This is so very rare that you shouldn't even consider any antibiotic that your allopathic vet (or people doctor) wants to prescribe.

Dog Bite Rabies

Rabies is a viral infection that affects the nervous system. Its first symptoms typically are fever, headache and/or myalgia, then seizures, swallowing and respiratory problems, and ultimately death. Again: If untreated, or treated too late, death is certain!

Rabies infection is the greatest concern whenever you or your loved ones are bitten by an animal of unknown history (whether wild animal or domesticated). While in the USA most rabies infections are caused by rabid bat and raccoon bites, in India for example it is indeed the dogs that transmit the rabies virus most frequently.

Although generally considered extinct in many geographies, surprisingly there are still reported cases of rabies infections resulting from dog bites even in highly developed nations. So, if in case of a dog bite you don't know the dog's history, consider a) having this established by animal control or law enforcement agencies, and b) seeking medical advice just in case.

Note that the biting situation itself may give an indication: An unprovoked (proactive) bite gives more concern than a provoked (reactive) bite. A dog that carries the rabies virus is much more likely to bite proactively.

Rabies posterThe problem with rabies is: The average incubation period in humans is 30 - 50 days, but symptoms may actually become visible after 10 days at best, or after over a year at worst!

Again, time is of the essence, as human rabies postexposure prophylaxis (immunization) should really better begin within 24 hours max if determined necessary. Once symptoms become apparent, treatment typically comes too late: After symptoms appear, the person is likely to die within 4 to 20 days max (the infected dog is likely to die much sooner).

Also note that, contrary to popular belief, the rabies virus is not only transmitted through the saliva in a bite, but can be transmitted through other body fluids too (possibly now feces and urine): The rabies virus has developed rapidly, and it learned to diversify across many new animal hosts. In the USA, currently Hawaii is the only state that is rabies free!

If your dog (or someone else's dog) gets bitten by any wild animal, then do consider the possibility of a rabies infection. And if that's the case, you (and anyone coming into contact with the dog in question) are at risk of contracting the virus too. This is why the US Centers for Disease Control stipulate: "Unvaccinated dogs, cats, and ferrets exposed to a rabid animal should be euthanized immediately".

Global rabies statistics make clear that if you live in India or other nations in Asia (like many of our free subscribers do), then better ignore the word "wild" above - yielding the advice:

If your dog (or someone else's dog) gets bitten by any animal (ie including domesticated dogs), then do consider the possibility of a rabies infection.

So, again: Better seek medical advice immediately, just in case

And if your geography and the dog's living environment (a lot outdoors in an affected area) suggest the chance to get bitten by an animal, then you may want to consider immunizing at least your own dog against rabies - to protect your dog, yourself and your family.

Dog Bite First Aid

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First Aid for Dog Bite:

  1. Immediate copious saline irrigation of the wound (or if not readily available, instantly under running tap water, if clean)
  2. Often forgotten: While squeezing the flesh towards the wound (where adequate!). Make it bleed. This does help a lot to flush out any pathogens - which is nature's purpose for the bleeding!
  3. So, initially do not aim to stop the bleeding, as this would literally confine any pathogens to the bloodstream.

If you adhere to 1 to 3 alone, you have successfully reduced the infection risk by 80 - 90%!

Further First Aid:

  • The injured body part should be kept elevated and immobile where possible (to reduce the blood flow and thus the contamination of the entire body)
  • Mental comfort (psychological support) can be vital to avoid shock, rage and high blood pressure, unconsciousness, or trauma!
  • After thorough tap water (where safe) or saline wound wash (where possible), visually inspect the wound to assess the likelihood of ruptured ligaments, tendons, muscles, nerves, blood vessels, or bones deep below the laceration of the skin. If you can't, see the doc to be sure nothing serious happened
  • After (only!) visual inspection, apply aseptic band-aid/plaster or dressing/bandage as appropriate - now without applying pressure to the wound
  • Again: If you feel the wound looks severe, or if a child was bitten, or if the victim has a weakened immune system (from illness, medicaments, or pregnancy), or if the bite was to the hand or face, then do see the doctor without delay!

While the US Centers for Disease Control estimate that annually at least 4.7 mio people get bitten by a dog (in the USA alone!), only 800,000 Americans actually do seek medical attention for dog bites. Likely reasons:

  • Seeing the doctor costs money (unless insured)
  • It was their own dog that bit, and they want to avoid problems from making the dog bite "public"
  • They don't take the bite serious (neither in terms of potential health impact, nor in terms of changing their dog training!)

This is not okay. If there is a laceration, better do see the doc!

So, obviously a human first aid kit in the house is as important as a canine first aid kit.

Dog Bites Treatment

Treatment for Dog Bite:

  • Regular wound treatment is more harmful than beneficial, but regular wound examination is a must
  • Every 24 hours max, reexamine the bite wound to establish infection risk (or healing progress)
  • If needed, irrigate the bite wound once more, and apply new aseptic band-aid/plaster or dressing/bandage as appropriate
  • Bites to the hand or face should be reexamined every 12 hours max
  • Move the injured body part only minimally - to establish mobility and motion control
  • There is controversy as to the efficacy of tetanus immunization subsequent to a dog bite: At the time of (any) immunization the immune system is weakened ("busy"), and tetanus efficacy doesn't set in until much later. Thus it may not actually help to wait for a dog bite to be reminded of a tetanus booster (every 10 years), doh!
  • If the dog bite ruptured ligaments, tendons, nerves, muscles, blood vessels or bones, always get professional treatment by a doctor

In the USA alone, of the around 800,000 medically reported dog bite cases annually, around 386,000 require treatment in an emergency department, and 33,000 receive reconstructive surgery.


Checklist * (see note at the bottom)

  • Dog Bite Treatment skill is one of these skills that we don't need every day and hence we like to overlook it (like learning to fly: We don't practice it because we rarely fall or jump from the third floor of a house :-) )
  • A human first aid kit in the house is as important as a canine first aid kit
  • Both should be supplemented with additional remedies where deemed appropriate - for example a quality saline wound wash is essential (not only when we have a dog in the house)
  • For the later treatment of a dog bite laceration, Sudocrem can be used to prevent scarring
  • For safety, keep your tetanus immunization up-to-date (and of your family)
  • In case you live in a rabid area, do consider to get your dog immunized against rabies (particularly if you live in India, or if your dog is exposed to wild life anywhere else in the world!)
  • Anyone with a dog bite more than a scratch should seek medical treatment immediately, especially if:
    • the health status of the dog is unknown
    • the victim is a child or has a weakened immune system (illness, medicaments, pregnancy, etc)
    • the bite was to the hand or face
    • the bite wound is considered large or deep, such that it may have affected ligaments, tendons, nerves, muscles, blood vessels or bones beneath



==> Next edition: Dog Bite Prevention (any bite) <==

Miguel at 28w Can you give back a bit today?



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    Great article as usual Tim! It reminded me why I spent so much time teaching my GSD not to bite (unless under threat, or on command). He is now 10 and still takes small dog treats from my mouth (without contact of course). A very good elderly friend even has the courage to give him treats this way.He was raised to understand the term 'gentle' and spent a lot of time around children. He has been responsible for 'curing' many children & adults of their fear of GSDs. I did not want my GSD to be one of those 'other peoples dogs' who bit!


    Another great one Tim! I am pretty sure that every State in the Union requires rabies vaccines for all dogs, but some people still go without. And it is surprising as well, how many people do not know how to recognize an infection! Or when they should seek medical help. Good job in spelling it all out, especially where children are involved.
    Thanks for helping us all do better!


      Howdy, I can't believe that after a thousand had this one already, you're the second person to comment! :-)
      Maybe others don't grasp that engagement gives perks in life. ;-) While one-way consumerism gives dog problems. Ha, how true!

      (I am surprised how many Periodicals you are getting in a week :-) )


        I have been away so long the periodicals have accumulated! I am catching up as fast as I can, and commenting lets you know how much I appreciate your efforts to educate us on how to best appreciate and live with our dogs. So, a very big thank you!


    Great article. Having been around dogs for 74 years I have been bitten. Having some common sense knowledge of the dynamic is good to have stored in one's data bank. I especially like the comments on staying calm, analyzing the severity of the situation and not using common sense reason when having the choice of non antibiotic remedies vs. antibiotics.....always good reasons to ask questions before accepting blindly the standard MD solution.

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