In the United States, there are 4.7 million dog bites every year. 800,000 of these are serious enough to result in medical care.

Even if you take all reasonable care to avoid one of these nasty encounters, they can still happen.

Sometimes dogs get loose and you don’t see them coming. Sometimes your own dog will be spooked by an external force and bite you without thinking.

Whether the dog in question has a history of being dangerous or not and regardless of the reason, it’s important to know how to clean a dog bite and how to ease the pain when it does occur.

Follow this guide for the steps to take after a dog’s teeth have broken your skin.

1. First Aid — How to Treat and How to Clean a Dog Bite

The first important step to take is to treat the wound.

Wash it gently with mild soap and warm water. You should do this for at least 5-10 minutes to ensure the wound is completely clean.

Gently dry the area and place some over-the-counter antibiotic cream on it. Ask for some recommended dog bite treatment if you’re unsure of what to get.

After you’ve done this, make sure the wound is wrapped in a clean, sterile bandage.

Feel free to also take some over-the-counter pain medication, if necessary.

2. Find out If the Dog Has Been Vaccinated Against Rabies

Ideally, you’ll want to find out if the dog has been vaccinated against rabies.

If your own dog bit you, it’s easy to find out by checking their medical records. That’s why it’s super important to keep a record of their vaccination history.

It can be jarring to be bitten by your own dog, but you need to know what to do if your dog bites you and breaks the skin. Vaccination records are important for this.

If the dog belongs to someone else, ask them. Don’t take their word for it — they might say ‘yes’ to avoid getting into further trouble, which can put your health at serious risk! Ask to actually see the vaccination records.

If you’re not 100% satisfied that the dog has been vaccinated against rabies, it’s time to see a health professional. Don’t put yourself at risk.

3. See a Medical Professional

It the bite is minor and you’ve managed to clean it up yourself, a doctor may not be required. But dog bites can sometimes do extreme damage.

Serious Injuries From a Dog Bite

Painful and often dangerous injuries from a dog bite can include:

• Muscle damage
• Nerve damage
• Broken bones
• Scarring

It all depends how deep the wound has gone, but if any of these have occurred — or look likely to — see your doctor immediately.

dog bite

Potential Complications

Even if the wound doesn’t look too serious initially, don’t be too relaxed. For a few days, you will need to keep an eye on the injury.

If you experience any of the following, see your doctor as fast as possible:

• Intense pain for hours or days after the bite
• A loss of function anywhere in the body (such as the inability to wiggle toes after a bite to the leg)
• The wound becomes swollen or inflamed
• The wound looks particularly red long after the injury has happened
• There is puss or an unknown fluid at the wound, or the bleeding simply will not stop

Sometimes the injury can seem minor initially, but bacteria can infect the wound later. It’s important to keep an eye out for these symptoms.

4. What Else to Do in the Following Days

While keeping an eye out for any complications, ensure you’re changing the bandage every day and washing the wound.

Always be gentle (mild soap only!) and ensure any bandage you place over the injury is clean and sterile. Placing any dirty fabric against an open wound is exactly how you might end up infecting it and causing complications.

If there are no complications and the wound heals nicely (and was initially shallow), there may be no need to see a doctor.

5. Future Prevention

Although dogs can be unpredictable and being bitten is often not the victim’s fault, there are ways to minimize the risk:

• Do not wrestle or play roughly with dogs you do not know
• Be very careful when approaching a stray dog, and back of immediately if it shows signs of fear or defensiveness
• Do not physically punish a dog, ever — dogs are far more effectively trained by using positive reinforcement

6. Decide Whether to Take Further Action

If you’ve been bitten by a stray dog or one with no history of abuse or neglect, there may be little point to taking legal action against the owners.

However, if the dog’s aggression is due to its owners, it may be time to find a dog bite lawyer.

How to Take Further Action

It’s important to take further action first by seeking medical assistance, then by talking to a lawyer. Having to take immediate medical action shows the seriousness of the injury and how dangerous the negligence of the dog’s owners may have been.

From there, an expert lawyer can assist you with your case.

The Results

If your injury has been serious due to a fault of the dog’s owner, you will be entitled to compensation.

In some cases, police action may also be taken against the owner.

In extreme cases, the dog may be put down. Don’t let this make you hesitant to pursue a case — this should only be if the dog is truly beyond help, and you may be saving other humans and animals from incurable aggression.

Take Care of Yourself

Ultimately, you need to take care of yourself after such an injury. You should know how to clean a dog bite, when to seek medical assistance, and how to pursue a case afterward if you feel it’s necessary.

Luckily, fatalities from dog bites are very rare, but it can still be a very unpleasant experience.

For more handy life and self-care tips, check out the rest of our blog!