If a dog bite pierces a person’s skin, bacteria from the animal’s mouth can get into the body, which can cause an infection.
Washing the wound thoroughly can remove the bacteria from the body and help prevent infection. If the bacteria stay in the body, they can cause an infection, such as tetanus, rabies, or sepsis.
In some cases, an infection can spread to other parts of the body. People will need antibiotics or vaccinations to treat these types of infection.
Symptoms of a dog bite infection can include:
- swelling and redness around the wound
- pain that lasts longer than 24 hours
- drainage from the wound
- difficulty moving the affected part of the body
- a warm feeling around the wound
Signs that the infection may have spread to other parts of the body include:
- night sweats
To help prevent infection from a dog bite, people should wash the wound as soon as possible. People can treat minor wounds by:
- washing the wound with soap and warm water, making sure to clean the area thoroughly
- running the wound under lukewarm water to flush out bacteria
- applying antibiotic cream to the wound and then wrapping a clean bandage around it
People should deal with deeper, more serious wounds by:
- pressing a dry, clean cloth firmly against the wound to stop the bleeding
- seeking medical attention straight away
- calling 911 or getting emergency help if the bleeding is uncontrollable or the person feels faint
People may be able to use at-home treatments to prevent a dog bite from becoming infected. Cleaning minor wounds immediately is often sufficient. However, people should see a doctor for more serious wounds.
A doctor may use a syringe to apply water and a cleaning solution to the wound. Doing this helps flush out bacteria from the wound. The doctor may then prescribe antibiotics to fight off any bacteria that have entered the body and prevent infection.
A doctor will also be able to examine the wound to look for any damage to structures in the body, such as nerves or bones.
If the person has not had a tetanus vaccine in the last 5 years, they may need to have one to reduce the risk of tetanus.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, people with a dirty wound should have a booster tetanus vaccine if more than 5 years have passed since their last shot. For a clean wound, people should have a booster vaccine if it has been more than 10 years since their last shot.
In cases of severe or facial wounds, people may need stitches to close the wound. If the person does not know the dog’s history of rabies vaccination, they will need a postexposure rabies vaccine to protect them from the possibility of rabies.
Bites on the hands or feet carry a higher risk of infection. Certain infections from dog bites can be very serious and lead to complications. Without treatment, these infections can be fatal.
If people have a Capnocytophaga infection from a dog bite, they may have the following symptoms:
- blistering around the wound
- redness, swelling, and pain around the wound
- oozing from the wound
- vomiting and diarrhea
- joint pain
Symptoms can appear between
- excessive alcohol use
- not having a spleen
- the presence of health conditions that affect the immune system
- taking medications that can damage cells, such as chemotherapy
Without treatment, complications of Capnocytophaga infection can include:
- kidney failure
- heart attack
A doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat a Capnocytophaga infection.
Untreated animal bites can sometimes lead to sepsis. Sepsis is a severe reaction to infection, and it can be life threatening. Signs of sepsis include:
- high or low body temperature
- extreme daytime sleepiness
- severe pain or discomfort
If a person suspects that they have sepsis, they should seek immediate medical attention. A doctor will treat sepsis with antibiotics and intravenous fluids.
People can get rabies if a dog that has rabies bites them. The first symptoms of rabies are:
- a headache, fever, and other flu-like symptoms
- an itching or prickling feeling around the bite
Rabies is fatal if a person does not receive treatment. People should see their doctor straight away if they think that the dog that bit them might have rabies. Postexposure rabies vaccination can treat the infection.
A dog bite can cause tetanus bacteria to enter the body. Symptoms of tetanus include:
- cramping in the jaw
- muscle spasms, usually in the stomach
- difficulty swallowing
- muscle stiffness
Tetanus is a serious infection. People with any symptoms of tetanus need immediate medical attention. They will require medications, such as antibiotics, as well as a tetanus vaccine.
People should seek emergency medical attention for a dog bite if they have:
- uncontrollable bleeding from the wound
- a fever
- a red, swollen, or painful wound
- a wound that feels warm
- a deep wound and have not had their tetanus shot within the last
If a person thinks that a dog bite has resulted in damage to the nerves or bones, they should seek emergency treatment. Emergency treatment is also necessary if an infection has spread to other parts of the body.
People should also seek medical attention if the dog that bit them was acting strangely, or they are unsure whether the dog has received a vaccine against rabies.
People may be able to avoid getting an infection from a dog bite if they wash the wound straight away. They can hold the wound under running water or use soap and water to wash it thoroughly before covering the wound with a bandage to keep it clean.
For deeper wounds, the person should see a doctor, who will wash out the wound with a saline solution and apply a dressing.
People should see their doctor straight away if they have any symptoms of infection around the wound, such as:
- worsening pain
- warmth around the wound
- oozing from the wound
If the person is at risk of developing an infection from a dog bite, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection. In some cases, people may need a tetanus or rabies vaccine to prevent these types of infection.