Dog Bite Treatment

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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What should I do if someone is bitten by a dog?

The dog bite victim needs to be taken to a safe place away from the assailant dog to prevent further attack and injury. Since dog bites can cause significant damage beneath the skin, a type of injury that cannot always easily be appreciated, medical care should be accessed by a health care practitioner.

Wounds should be kept elevated and, if possible, washing the wound with tap water may be attempted.

Information should be obtained from the dog's owner about the dog's rabies immunization status, but if this is not possible, hospital, animal control centers, or law enforcement personnel will help gather any required information.

When should I call the doctor for a dog bite?

Medical care should be accessed if the dog bite disrupts the skin causing a puncture, laceration, or tear. As well, if there is pain at or near the injury site, underlying structures may have been damaged and medical care may be needed.

If the skin is not disturbed, or if there is a minimal abrasion present, it may be reasonable to watch for signs of infection (pain, redness, warmth, swelling, and drainage of pus or fluid) before seeking medical care.

Please note: if the victim elects not to seek medical care, the rabies immunization status of the dog must be determined immediately. Rabies therapy, if necessary, must begin as soon as possible. The victim's tetanus status also needs to be current.

Exposure to a rabid animal does not always result in rabies. If treatment is initiated promptly following a rabies exposure, rabies can be prevented. If a rabies exposure is not treated and a person develops clinical signs of rabies, the diseased almost always results in death.

Infants and children should be evaluated after any dog bite.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/2/2015
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