How to Treat a Dog Bite

Two Methods:Treating Minor BitesTreating a Severe Dog Bite

Animal bites are a frequent occurrence with anywhere from two to five million occurring annually in the Unites States. Children are bitten more than adults and the majority of bites (85 – 90%) are from dogs.[1] The most frequent complication of animal bites is skin infection. Rarely, bites can cause serious injury and permanent disability. The most serious concern with animal bites is rabies.[2] By knowing how to clean and care for a dog bite—as well as when it’s time to see a doctor about the bite—you can minimize the risk of any related complications.

Method 1
Treating Minor Bites

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    Examine the bite. The majority of dog bites will be minor wounds you can treat at home. If the bite barely broke the skin or the teeth dragged to form a shallow scratch, then you can treat the wound at home.[3]
    • This differs from a wound where the tissue is deeply punctured, torn, or joints/bones have been crushed. Always seek medical attention for these wounds, which are covered more in Method Two.
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    Wash the bite thoroughly with soap and water. Spend several minutes washing the bite with plenty of soap and water at a comfortable temperature.[4] This helps clean the wound of any germs around your wound or that came from the dog’s mouth.
    • Any soap is fine, but an antibacterial soap is best if you have some in your home.
    • The soap and water might sting the site of the bite, but it’s still a much better idea to wash the area thoroughly.
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    Apply pressure if the wound is bleeding. Use a clean towel or gauze to apply pressure to the bite if it is still bleeding after washing it.[5] The bleeding should stop or slow enough to bandage the wound within several minutes.
    • If the wound continues bleeding too much to bandage it after fifteen minutes of pressure, then you should seek medical attention.[6]
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    Apply an antibiotic ointment. Antibiotic creams such as Neosporin or Bacitracin can also help prevent infections as the wound heals.[7] Apply the cream to the wound as directed on the packaging.
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    Bandage the bite. As soon as you apply the antibiotic ointment, bandage or dress the wound appropriately.[8] Apply with enough pressure to help protect the injury, but do not apply with so much pressure as to affect circulation or lead to discomfort.
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    Change the bandage as necessary. You should change the bandage on the bite each time you soil it, such as when showering. Wash the bite again gently, reapply the antibiotic cream, and apply a fresh bandage.
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    Update your immunizations. Tetanus is a potential infection that can stem from any dog bite that breaks the skin.[9] Medical professionals recommend a tetanus booster after a dog bite if your last immunization was five or more years ago.[10]
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    Keep an eye on the bite. Watch for signs of other infection as the bite heals. If you think the bite is becoming infected, then see a doctor immediately. Signs that an infection might be developing in the bite include:[11][12]
    • Worsening pain
    • Swelling
    • Redness or warmth around the bite
    • Fever
    • Pus-like discharge
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    Determine the rabies vaccine status of the dog, if possible. Rabies is another possible infection you can get from even a minor dog bite. Those bitten by dog’s often know the dog that bit them and can verify that the dog has previously received a rabies vaccination, in which case rabies is not a concern.[13]
    • If the dog’s vaccine status is uncertain—such as if the dog was a stray—the dog should be observed for fifteen days (if possible) to see if it develops signs of rabies. You should also seek professional medical assistance if you can’t verify the vaccination status of the dog.
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    Seek medical attention for other health-related complications. Even for minor bites, some health-related complications mean you should still seek medical attention. These other conditions include:[14]
    • Diabetes
    • Liver disease
    • Cancer
    • HIV
    • Medications that can weaken the immune system, such as those taken for autoimmune disorders.

Method 2
Treating a Severe Dog Bite

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    Examine the bite. Severe bites will have one or more deep puncture wounds from the dog’s teeth that may or may not have severe tearing of the tissue that followed the puncture(s).[15] Due to the crushing power of the jaw of certain dog breeds, you may also have signs of bone, ligament, or joint damage, such as painful movements or the inability to move the area around the bite. Additional signs that the bite will require medical attention rather than home care include:[16]
    • If the bite is deep enough to see fat, muscle, or bone
    • If the bite has jagged edges or ones that are far apart
    • If blood is spurting from the bite or the bleeding cannot be stopped within fifteen minutes of applying pressure
    • If the wound is larger than one or two centimeters
    • If the bite is on the head or neck
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    Apply pressure to the bite. Before heading to the doctor, use a clean towel to apply pressure to the bite to slow the bleeding as much as possible.[17] Keep the bite covered with pressure applied until you see a doctor.
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    See a doctor. Medical professionals will determine the best course of action for a severe bite, including how to stop the bleeding and whether or not the bite requires sutures. The doctor will irrigate the wound to thorough clean it (with a surgical disinfectant such as iodine) and perform any necessary debridement of the bite site, which is the removal of dead, damaged, or infected tissue that can interfere with the healing of the healthy surrounding tissue.[18]
    • The doctor will also look into your shot record to determine if a tetanus booster is necessary.
    • If the doctor suspects bone damage based on your bite, you will likely be x-rayed to determine the proper treatment as well.[19]
    • Tell your doctor at this time whether or not you know if the dog that bit you has received a rabies vaccination. If a doctor believes you are at risk for rabies, she will treat you with a course of multiple rabies shots.[20]
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    Take any prescribed antibiotics. If you’ve come in with signs of infection or the doctor determines that you’re at a high risk of infection for the bite, he will likely prescribe a course of antibiotics.[21]
    • The most commonly used antibiotic is amoxicillin-clavulanate (Augmentin). It is a pill that is generally prescribed for three to five days. The most common side effect is GI upset.
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    Change your bandages as suggested. Your doctor will also direct you how often to change the dressing of the wound once he or she has treated it.[22] You will probably be instructed to change the bandages once or twice a day.


  • Always take steps to train your dog properly to reduce the risk of biting.
  • For information on the best ways to prevent dog bites from happening in the first place, look at: How to Prevent Dog Bites.


  • If the bite starts to itch or the skin around it starts to swell rapidly, see a doctor.
  • While this article offers information related to dog bites, it should not be considered medical advice. Always see a doctor if you’re unsure regarding the severity of a bite.
  • If the wound gets worse, it is always better to see a qualified doctor.
  • If you cannot verify that the dog has been vaccinated for rabies (either through your own documentation for your dog or the owner’s documentation if someone else’s), then you should always seek medical attention. Rabies infection can be treated after the bite, but only if you seek medical attention immediately. You cannot wait for symptoms to appear.[23]
  • Bites to the hands, feet, or head are much more likely to require medical attention due to the thinness of the skin and number of joints that can a bite can affect.[24]

Sources and Citations


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Categories: Stings Bites and Burns