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What to Do if a Dog Bites Your Child

We all know that dogs can bite.

“Any dog can bite especially when scared, nervous, eating, or when playing or protecting toys or puppies. Dogs may also bite when they aren’t feeling well and want to be left alone. Any dog can bite, but most dog bites are preventable, and there are many things you can do at home and within your community to help prevent them.”

Prevent dog scratches and bites

Many don’t know what to do when a dog actually bites their child, which not surprisingly, isn’t that uncommon, considering how many people have dogs as pets and how irresistible they are to pet and play with.

What to Do if a Dog Bites Your Child

Fortunately, many bites are minor and can be treated at home.

“Nearly 1 in 5 people bitten by a dog requires medical attention.”

Prevent dog scratches and bites

Is the wound deep with uncontrolled bleeding?

Is your child in extreme pain or unable to move their arm, leg, or hand, etc.?

For these types of serious bites, seek immediate medical attention.

Some dog bites require surgery...
Some dog bites require surgery…

For more minor wounds, you might be able to:

  • Wash the bite gently, but thoroughly (at least 3 to 5 minutes) with water.
  • Apply an antibiotic cream.
  • Cover the bite with a clean bandage.
  • If necessary, give an age-appropriate dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain.

And then call your health care provider for further advice.

Will they recommend antibiotics (like Augmentin) or closing the bite with sutures? Rarely, but that is sometimes recommended for bites on the face. Most bites are left open though, as the risk of infection is so high when they are closed.

Hopefully, if the wound is indeed minor and has stopped bleeding, you may be able to just:

  • Wash the bite a few times a day with soap and water, reapplying antibiotic cream and a clean bandage.
  • Watch for signs of infection, which might include redness, pain, fever, or discharge from the bite.

And review dog safety with your child to prevent another bite in the future.

What Else to Do if a Dog Bites Your Child?

In addition to taking care of the bite itself, there are a few other things you need to do after your child is bitten by a dog, including:

  1. checking to make sure the dog is up-to-date on their rabies vaccines (get a shot record!). If not, the dog should be quarantined for 10 days. If you can’t get the dog’s shot record and the dog can’t be found to be quarantined, then you will need to talk with your health care provider and your local/state health department about getting your child rabies postexposure prophylaxis (PEP).
  2. reporting the bite to your local animal control agency, who should be able to follow up on the dog’s rabies status or to quarantine the dog if necessary
  3. checking to make sure your child is up-to-date on their tetanus vaccine. Keep in mind that even if your child is on schedule with their vaccines, if it has been more than 5 years since their last dose of a tetanus containing vaccine (either DTaP or Tdap), then they will likely need another dose after a bite.

Fortunately, since most kids get a dose of DTaP when they start kindergarten and a dose of Tdap when they are 11 to 12 years old, there is a very small window between 9 to 11 years when some might need this extra dose of tetanus vaccine after a bite. You should still check your child’s immunization records, but they might be covered at other ages.

And while getting rabies from a dog bite has become very rare in the United States, keep in mind that is from a combination of dogs being vaccinated and postexposure prophylaxis after high risk dog bites.

More on Dog Bites

1 thought on “What to Do if a Dog Bites Your Child”

  1. Christopher Hickie

    It’s critical the local animal control authorities be notified as that is the only way they can know there is either an irresponsible pet owner or a vicious dog. In both scenarios animal control can take action to prevent the dog from further attacking others. I see families where the parents will say the dog’s owner begged them not to reported their dog biting their child–but it must be done.

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