Dogs can be terrific companions – friendly, furry, faithful, and truly man’s best friend.
However, a provoked or threatened dog can also turn ferocious and inflict harm on humans. Altogether, approximately 1,000 U.S. citizens are bitten by a dog each day. In 2014, there were 42 dog bite related deaths in the United States alone. Roughly half of those victims were children age 13 or younger.
Understanding how to behave around unfamiliar dogs and how to react in the presence of an upset dog are valuable tools to prevent dog bites and avoid serious injury. Also, if a dog bites you, it’s important to take several immediate precautions to avoid infection or other complications related to the bite.
Although many dogs are friendly and completely harmless, some are not. If a dog is a stranger to you, you must remember that you are also a stranger to him. For safety reasons, it’s better to assume that any strange dog sees you as a threat.
● When choosing a new companion, exercise caution. If adopting a dog, be certain to spend as much time with it as possible before reaching a decision on whether or not to make it part of your home. Acquire all vaccination reports and research the dog’s history. Find out if the dog was ever trained to fight or was mistreated. This alone does not mean the dog will turn violent, but being thorough during the adoption process can help prevent an accident later on.
● Do not leave young children alone with your dog. What seems like playing to a child may seem threatening to the dog. Without knowing better, children may pull a dog’s tail or poke them in the face, provoking the dog to defend itself.
● Never try to separate fighting dogs. As much as it hurts to watch your dog fighting with and possibly being injured by another animal, it’s best to not get physically involved with two fighting dogs in order to prevent injury to yourself.
● Be polite to dogs and respect their personal space. Never pet a dog who is inside a car or behind a fence. Always let a dog – even your own – sniff and recognize you first before making physical contact.
● Pay attention to a dog’s body language. Watch for these signals that a dog is uncomfortable and could be in a position to bite: tensed body, stiff tail, pulled back head or ears, furrowed brow, rolled back eyes, flicking tongue, intense stare, or if the dog is backing away.
● Carefully put distance between yourself and the dog, if necessary, by backing away while facing the dog. Never turn your back and run, as a dog’s instinct is to chase and catch.
● Resist the impulse to scream. The loud sound may startle a nervous dog and provoke an attack.
● If you fall to the ground, curl into a ball and cover your ears with your hands, while tucking your chin to your chest to protect your throat. Do not roll around or make noise.
● Do not disturb a dog that is feeding or caring for puppies. Mother dogs are fiercely protective of their pups.
● Avoid sick dogs. A sick dog may be more easily provoked to anger when they are not feeling well.
● Always keep your dog on a leash in public places. This can help your dog feel safer and more secure in a potentially nerve-wracking environment.
While taking precautions to prevent a dog bite from occurring is wise, it is not a foolproof plan. A dog can still attack, even if you do everything you know to do in order to avoid it. If you are bitten, there are several things you must do in quick succession. First, identify the severity of the bite, and contact a medical professional as soon as possible. This is particularly true if any of the following apply:
● The bite occurred on the hand, foot or head
● The wound is gaping
● You have diabetes, a lung or liver disease, or any other illness that compromises your immune system and ability to fight infection
● It’s been more than five years since you’ve had a tetanus shot
In severe dog attack cases, you may need to call 911 or have someone take you to the emergency room. However, if your injuries seem manageable, you may be able to provide self care at home. Wash the wound with soap and water, and if you are bleeding, apply pressure with a clean towel, shirt or rag and keep the injury elevated above the level of your heart. Doing this will reduce the chances for infection and swelling. Call your local law enforcement or animal control. After the bleeding is under control, apply an antibiotic ointment up to three times daily on the clean wound.
● The doctor will inspect the wound for bone, nerve or tissue damage.
● The doctor will remove any damaged tissue that is beyond repair.
● Stitches may be recommended, however, many doctors leave dog bites open in order to reduce the risk of infection
● He or she may prescribe an oral antibiotic or an antibiotic cream to prevent infection
● The doctor may recommend a tetanus shot, if patient has not had one in the last five years.
● If the damage is severe, the doctor might recommend a specialist to treat nerve or bone damage.
Becoming infected with rabies is possible when bitten by a strange dog, but according to information provided by the American Academy of Family Physicians, the scenario is unlikely. If you do suspect that rabies may be a concern, particularly if you do not know the dog who bit you, take the following steps:
● If you know the dog’s owner, obtain its vaccination records to make sure it is up-to-date on all immunizations. The dog will likely be quarantined for up to 10 days and will be closely observed to make sure it doesn’t show any signs of illness.
● If the animal is a stray, call the local animal control or health department. They will attempt to track down the dog and test it for rabies and other diseases once they find it.
● If the dog is infected, or animal control cannot locate the dog responsible for the bite, you may need to receive a series of six rabies shots over a 28-day to prevent the disease.