Dog Bite: What to Do if Your Dog Gets Bitten?


Has your canine companion ever suffered a dog bite? It’s something every owner dreads. You’re out for a walk when your well-behaved dog is attacked by another dog. A dog bite can be deceptively nasty. Even a simple puncture wound can have unfortunate complications. These include internal injuries, infection, abscess formation and soft tissue dieback.

Good first-aid treatment for a dog bite makes a big difference on the outcome. However, a vet check is strongly advisable because the injuries often go beyond skin deep.

How to Treat a Dog Bite

#1: Keep yourself safe

Do not try to separate fighting dogs with your hands or arms. You will get bitten. Instead, place an object between them, such as a chair. Or distract the aggressor by throwing water over him.

dog bite

Immediately after a dog bite, your fur-friend will be fearful, shaken and in pain. This can cause even a placid dog to become aggressive. If necessary, improvise a muzzle using a tie wrapped around the dog’s snout. Failing this, place your coat over the dog’s body and head as you gently pick him up. This provides you with some protection should the dog turn and snap.

#2: Assess the Injuries

A superficial dog bite, such as the tail, is painful but unlikely to be life-threatening. You have the option to give first aid at home, and then seek a vet check. (We’ll discuss more on that in the next section.) However, a deep dog bite to the windpipe (throat area), chest or abdomen is very serious. Ask yourself:

  • How deep is the dog bite? Could it have entered a body cavity, such as the chest or stomach?
  • Was the dog physically shaken, like a rag doll, during the attack?
  • Does your dog seem weak, confused or disorientated?
  • Is he having breathing difficulties?
  • Is he bleeding heavily?

Contact your veterinarian to ask if it is OK to try to clean the surface area of the dog bite before you head to the vet’s office. If the veterinarian says it’s OK, apply pressure with a clean cotton pad to a bleeding wound and keep the dog warm on your way, if possible. But even while cleaning the wounds, there is still a strong possibility that there will be deeper injuries.

#3: First Aid for the Walking Wounded

If the bite is a genuine nip and not deeply penetrating, then clean the wound at home. This reduces the risk of infection developing. If the dog will let you, gently trim the fur back from the wound edges. This allows you to see more clearly the extent of the injury.

Then clean and bathe the wound with an appropriate solution such as saline solution or weak disinfectant. Saline solution is ideal, such as the kind used for cleaning contact lenses. Or, make up a salt water solution: add a teaspoon of salt to one pint of a cool boiled water and stir. Saline solution helps wash away bacteria and doesn’t damage the dog’s delicate soft tissue. Alternatively, use a weak solution of a pet-safe disinfectant such as Savlon.

#4: Monitor the Wound

If there’s minimal chance of getting to the clinic soon, keep a close eye on the injury. Look for:

  • Swelling under or around the area of the bite
  • A discharge that’s bloody or purulent
  • Pain around the area

These are all signs of infection or the skin dying back. Getting a dog in this state to a veterinarian must then become top priority.

How to Treat a Dog Bite on a Dog

A dog bite is usually more than skin deep, with a high risk of complications. When treated correctly at the beginning, this can reduce the risk of costly complications. For example, let’s say the attacking dog picked your dog up by the scruff and shook him. The only visible injuries are two deep puncture wounds. The dog is upset but isn’t bleeding. You bathe the wounds but decide a vet visit isn’t necessary. Right?

Wrong! Shaking causes massive shearing forces that detach the skin from the underlying muscle. This creates a large dead space or cavity. Seepage from the damaged tissue then fills the void to create a large abscess or seroma. Odds are that the attacker’s teeth injected bacteria into this space, which makes for a monster-sized abscess. In a worst-case scenario, this could cause the skin to die back and a skin graft may be necessary to close the large open wound.

Dog Bite Treatment Protocol at the Vet

Let’s run with the example of the shaken dog. The vet may need to sedate the dog to explore the bite wounds and see how deep the puncture wounds are. This allows the vet to flush the dead space clean and place a drain if required. Then antibiotics and further flushing can prevent a serious (and costly) complication.

Complications and Dog Bite Treatment

It’s natural to focus on the skin wound you can see. But in more serious attacks, this is the least of the dog’s worries. For example, a bite to the throat can puncture the windpipe or damage the larynx. This causes breathing difficulties that need immediate attention. Likewise, a bite across the chest can let air into the chest cavity, causing the lungs to collapse. This is known as pneumothorax and is a genuine emergency. If you suspect a penetrating bite to the chest, try to seal the hole by bandaging around the chest. Then get straight to the vet.

Sadly, bites to the belly can be just as serious. If a tooth penetrates the gut, this can damage the intestine and cause gut contents to leak into the belly. Again, this requires immediate surgical management. The vet needs to give the dog a general anesthetic, open the abdomen, remove devitalized pieces of bowel and flush the belly to get rid of contamination.

Dog Bite Wounds – The Importance Of Watching For Shock

And last but by no means least is the risk of shock. A dog that’s been badly frightened or injured can easily go into shock. This causes the circulation to shut down and can be life-threatening. Signs of shock include:

  • Cold feeling paws or extremities
  • Pale membranes in the mouth
  • Weakness and disorientation
  • Mental confusion

Keep the dog warm by wrapping him in a coat or blanket. Then get to the vet clinic. The vet will give supportive care such as intravenous fluids to boost blood pressure, pain relief and drugs to boost the circulation.

Dog Bites

A dog bite is a scary experience for both dog and owner. If your dog is attacked, keep calm but also seek help. It’s better to visit the vet and have a wasted trip than miss an important opportunity to catch a complication before it becomes serious.

Has Your Dog Been Bitten?

Share your story if you’d like to, and find other dog owners who have been through the same thing, over on the forum.

Resources and Further Reading:

Britt, T., 2005, “Manage Bite Wounds: Not Just Skin Deep,” DVM 360

Ward, E., 2009, “First Aid for Dogs,” VCA Hospitals

Winkler, K.P., “Management of Specific Wounds,” Merck Veterinary Manual

Winkler, K.P., “Initial Wound Management,” Merck Veterinary Manual


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