According to the statistics, dogs bite 4.7 million Americans each year – one in five of these people have wounds serious enough to require emergency treatment.  

Dog bites can damage tissue, tear the skin, cause disfigurement and scarring, and crush bones. But the number one concern with dog bites is infection. 

Here are the five steps you should take if you or your child is bitten by a dog. 

1. Remain Calm 

Although getting bitten by a dog can be a highly traumatic experience, try to stay calm. Do not try to approach the dog again or try to catch it – especially if the dog is unfamiliar or a stray.  

Get to a safe place to minimize the risk of being bitten again. Remember to take photos of your wounds to document your injuries. If the owner or custodian of the dog is present, exchange contact information – this will aid your case if you require compensation. Learn more here.   

2. Wash and Evaluate the Wound 

Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water. Once you’ve rinsed the wound off, you can also get a better idea about how severe it is.  

3. Stop the Bleeding 

If the wound is still bleeding, wrap a clean towel over it and try to stop or slow the bleeding. Compress the wound and apply direct pressure for five minutes. If the bleeding hasn’t stopped or slowed, you need to go to the emergency room. 

4. See a Doctor  

It is always recommended to see a medical professional right after a dog bite – especially if the bite has broken the skin. For deep wounds and punctures, you should go to the emergency room or urgent care center immediately. 

Any signs of swelling, redness, or warmth could be signs of an infection. Your doctor will clean the wound again, apply antibiotic ointment, and prescribe antibiotics as a precaution. 

If you were bitten by an unfamiliar dog in a geographic location that is known to be a high-risk area for rabies, you may also need rabies shots. If you know the dog, ask for proof of vaccination to establish the dog’s rabies status. 

You should also make sure that you know when your last tetanus shot was. Although tetanus immunization lasts for 10 years, your doctor may recommend a booster shot if the wound is particularly dirty or if it’s been more than five years since your last tetanus shot. 

Depending on how deep the puncture is and where it is located, your doctor may want to stitch it up. However, dog bites are usually left open to heal unless they could leave severe scars if not stitched or if they are on the face – your doctor will determine if stitches are needed. 

Follow the doctor’s instructions for the aftercare of the wound, and report for follow-up treatment. 

5. File a Report 

After you have received medical treatment, legally document your case by filing a dog bite report with the city or county authorities – this is especially important if you require compensation for your treatment. Legally, the owner of the dog is liable for damages that result in a bite or attack.    

Dogs that bite unprovoked are a serious public health concern, and by documenting your bite incident, you can potentially prevent another person or child from being bitten by the same dog.