do i need a tetanus shot after a dog bite?
Pet Health Questions and Answers

How to Clean a Dog Bite Wound on a Human

Dogs are fantastic companions, and for many of us, our tail-wagging chums are our best friends. It always pays to remember that dogs have sharp teeth, however, and they’ll use them if the need arises.

That’s not to say that dogs are prone to wandering around on a biting rampage – in most cases, a dog will never even think about attacking a human without good cause.

Let’s discuss the possible reasons why this can happen, and everything you need to know about aftercare for dealing with and cleaning a dog bite wound (including how to treat dog bites at home instead of relying upon a hospital).

Table of Contents:

Why Do Dogs Bite Humans?

First thing’s first – it should be noted that a dog bites on humans are comparatively rare. This stands to reason, as we are much bigger than the average canine and thus must appear pretty scary to the majority of them!

What’s more, a bite is the last resort of a dog, and they will give you warning signs before they start snapping. In the meantime, however, let’s review some of the reasons why a dog may opt to bite a human.

  • Play. This is especially common among puppies and possibly rescues that were never appropriately trained by previous owners. If your dog is biting but then appearing to repent afterward when they realize they have hurt you, they may not know that they are acting in an unwelcome way – it could just be a result of overexcitement or a lack of understanding of boundaries.
  • Fear or Stress. This is the most likely reason for a dog biting a human. Whether it’s a new arrival to your home that doesn’t quite understand what is happening, or it’s because your vet is being prodded and poked by a vet and is afraid of what they might do next, a dog may bite through instinct to protect himself or herself.
  • Irritation with Children. We’re sorry to say it, but children can be annoying for dogs – especially senior canines. If your pooch is trying to catch forty winks or relax in the sunshine, and a child insists on poking them in the eye, pulling their ears and tails, attempting to ride them and generally getting in their face, your dog may snap and offer a nip to warn the small human to leave them alone.
  • Food Aggression. This is particular to certain dogs, but if a dog suffers from food aggression, they will not allow anybody to remove – or even touch – their food bowl. Seek the help of a vet if your dog exhibits any of the symptoms of this condition.
  • Some Dogs Are Trained to Attack. We don’t necessarily mean mistreated canines that are coached to fight, but working dogs, such as those in the service of law enforcement or dogs that guard the family home. In the highly unlikely event that you carry a scent that the canine in question is trained to attack, they may bite first and ask questions later.
  • Sickness. This is the most worrying reason why a dog may bite a human. If your hound is feeling sick or unwell, they may bite to send an unmistakable message – or they could be acting out of character due to a serious health concern. See a professional immediately in this instance, but we’re sorry to say that you may have to brace yourself for possible bad news.

Warning Signs That a Dog Will Bite

If a dog is going to bite a human, they will usually provide you with warning signs first – it’s rarely a go-to response unless the canine is very unwell, even if your dog isn’t the friendliest toward strangers.

If your dog, or any other pooch that you come into contact with, display any of the following behaviors then give them some space. This is a warning that a bit may be forthcoming.

  • Ears Forward, Standing Upright, Making Eye Contact. This is a dog attempting to make themselves look as big and dominant as possible, hoping that this will be enough to make you walk away, so they do not need resort to a bite.
  • Frantic Tail-Wagging. It pays to learn and understand the body language of dogs so that you know whether to avoid a dog altogether and thus prevent any of this from occurring. If a dog is wagging their tail intensely, keeping it straight and rigid, it’s usually a sign that they are highly stressed.
  • Growling and Snapping. Barking can sometimes be misconstrued and may be a sign of excitement, but there is no mistaking these warning signs. They mean, “back off pal – this is your last warning” – nothing more, nothing less.

what's the healing time from a dog bite puncture wound?

My Puppy Keeps Nipping and Biting Me

This is normal behavior for a puppy, and nothing to worry about – although it can start to get a little painful thanks to those tiny, knitting needle-like milk teeth! Puppies bite and nip for two main reasons beyond a simple exploration of the world through their mouths, and neither is because they are antisocial or are attacking you.

The first is play. Puppies play – and learn the boundaries of social etiquette – by wrestling, biting, and nipping each other. A littermate will warn a puppy if they’re biting too hard and causing pain by emitting a little squeak or bark, which means that the canine in question knows their limits and understands when play stops being fun and starts to hurt.

If you’ve collected up a puppy from their mum and littermates, they’ll assume that you are their new pal, and will continue to play and learn in the same way. This means they’ll be biting and nipping your fingers and toes! If you want to coach your puppy out of this behavior gently, emit a very gentle, high-pitched squeak or, “ouch” so they understand that bit too hard.

The other reason that puppies like to bite is to relieve pain – the poor little guys are teething for the first few months of their lives, and that can be a painful experience. A puppy will seek to relieve that discomfort by chewing and chomping everything in sight, including furniture, shoes and human digits. Offer a constant supply of chew toys to ease this, and consider giving frozen foods such as peas as a treat. The cold will help your poor pup ease their aching gums.

My Dog Bit Me for No Reason

Are you sure? This is extremely rare, and we encourage you to review the list of possible reasons for attack again. Unless it’s an unfortunate case of mistaken identity or the dog has been trained to attack, there will be a reason why you have been the victim of a dog bite.

If you’re adamant that the attack was unprovoked, the dog in question will need to be seen by a professional as this behavior is hugely out of character for most canines.

We’re sorry to say that drastic action may be taken, up to and including the dog in question being put to sleep. This is why we’d like to stress, one final time, that you must be certain that the dog bit you for no reason other than a bout of distemper.

How Dangerous is a Dog Bite?

This depends on how severe the attack was – the danger comes from the possibility of infection and bacteria.

  • If your skin was not broken, it’s typically nothing to worry about – get yourself cleaned up, and concentrate on learning why the dog but you and ensuring that it doesn’t happen again.
  • If you have a small scratch or graze on your skin, there is a small chance that infection could make its way into your body. Keep the area covered, and consider a non-emergency medical assessment.
  • If the dog punctured your skin and drew blood, you should speak to a doctor or nurse after taking the necessary first aid steps. Open wounds are prone to bacterial infection.

What Should I Do After a Dog Bite?

The dog bite treatment protocol is fairly standard. There are a number of steps that should be undertaken, no matter whether the bite was a quick nip or a real sinking of the jaws.

Firstly, remove yourself from the dog’s presence. Maybe the canine will be preparing to attack again, or maybe they are mortified at resorting to biting. Either way, don’t react – and never retaliate physically, as this will just intensify the problem.

Get somebody else to calm or soothe the dog, and walk away – calmly and efficiently. If the incident occurred with your own dog, you can make friends again later. Next, look into getting yourself cleaned up.

Cleaning a Dog Bite Wound Step-by-Step

There are two possible methods for how to clean a dog bite on a human, depending on the severity of the animal’s attack.

If the dog bite has not broken the skin:

  1. Run the bite under a cold tap for several minutes, making sure that it is thoroughly cleaned. You could also add some unscented soap if you’re confident it will not react.
  2. Dry the wound.
  3. Apply a little antibiotic oil to prevent the – admittedly unlikely – risk of any infection.
  4. Apply a Band-Aid to prevent any bacteria from gaining access to the area.

do i need a tetanus shot after a dog bite?

If the dog bite has broken or punctured the skin:

  1. Wash the open wound very thoroughly using clean water. You may consider using unscented soap too, but if there is any kind of doubt then avoid this.
  2. Once you’re confident that the wound is clean, lift away from the sink. Remember, the more you keep it elevated the more likely you are to stem any bleeding. If it won’t stop pumping blood, get yourself checked out by a doctor.
  3. Dry the wound, then apply a bandage to the bleeding area and keep it clean.
  4. Check this wound every day, and change your bandage at the first sign of any fresh blood or injury.
  5. Apply antibiotic ointments to the impacted area to combat any risk of future infection. You can pick these up over the counter in a drugstore, or make your own.

Antibacterial Treatment Options

If you decide to make your own antibiotic ointment, discuss the potential ingredients with a healthcare professional before starting. Obviously, you may have personal allergies to contend with, or there is a risk that the oils you use with impact with the puncture wounds.

Some essential oils that have antibacterial qualities and can aid in wound care include:

  • Coconut Oil
  • Frankincense
  • Helichrysum Oil
  • Lavender Oil
  • Tea Tree Oil
  • Oregano Oil

You could apply some of all of these oils individually, or combine them all to make one giant treatment.

Do I Need a Tetanus Shot After a Dog Bite?

It’s a common belief that any animal bite will need the immediate attention of a healthcare professional, and possibly tetanus shot due to the risk of bacterial infection. The truth is, if you have had a tetanus shot in the past five years you should be covered.

However, unless you are certain that the dog in question is wholly up-to-date on their vaccinations, you should still make a trip to a local clinic – or even the ER. Rabies is always a risk in some territories and can be fatal.

This also applies if you have any pre-existing health concerns, or are otherwise vulnerable. It’s more than likely that the dog bite is nothing to be too concerned by, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry, If the saliva of the dog contains anything that will attack your immune system, it’s good to get it checked out.

Is Dog Saliva Dangerous?

If the dog is healthy, quite the opposite; canine saliva is believed to contain antibacterial qualities, which is why dogs so often lick their wounds. Many cultures still use dog saliva as a medicinal agent, in fact. While we wouldn’t necessarily recommend that if the dog that bit has a clean medical history their saliva is nothing to worry yourself about.

This does not mean that a dog bite should be ignored, however. Canine saliva may not be an immediate problem, but unless they are brushed with regularity, a dog’s teeth may be breeding grounds of dirt and bacteria. If a dog adds insult to injury by having bad breath as well as biting you, seek medical attention as quickly as possible.

Should I Take a Dog to the Vet After They Bite a Human?

If it is entirely out of character and unprovoked, the answer is yes. As we have already explained many times, however, you may need to brace yourself for some uncomfortable truths – especially if the bite was on the face.

We don’t say this to frighten anybody, or to be pessimistic. We’re just stressing, once and again, that a dog will not bite a human without reason. It’s just not in canine nature.

Treating a Child That Has Been Bitten by a Dog

If a child has been subjected to a dog bite, you should get them to the ER at once, even if there is no visible sign of injury or distress. The reason for this is simple – children are considered vulnerable, as their immunity will not yet be fully developed.

If there is any risk of an infection, it may not be obvious immediately. However, these things can creep up on a child and have dire consequences later. Also, you will need to gain a firm understanding as to why the dog bit in the first place so that it doesn’t happen again.

how long does it take for a dog bite to heal on a dog?

If the bite came from your family pet, the chances are that your child pushed their company on the dog too much and it finally snapped. Keep an eye on their future interactions, and don’t leave a dog and child alone together. Also keep an eye on Fido’s behavior in future though, and ensure that this is not the first warning sign of temperament problems.

If it was a strange dog on the street or in the park, try to have a calm and reasonable conversation with the owner of the canine in question. Did you child try to pet or stroke the dog without asking permission first? Did they take the dog’s favored toy, even if they had good intentions of throwing it as part of a game? There may have been a reason for this interaction that can lead to a learning opportunity about how to handle dogs.

Also, if at all possible, learn about the medical status of the dog that bit. A responsible dog owner will be able to confirm that their pet is fully up-to-date on all vaccinations and has no healthcare concerns. You’ll still need to ensure that your child receives medical attention, but at least your mind will be set at rest a little!

What’s the Healing Time from a Dog Bite Puncture Wound?

Like all things, this largely depends on the circumstances of the bite. A quick nip will heal much faster than a deep sinking of the teeth, and there are also any potential complications with infection or aftercare to take into consideration.

Provided you take the appropriate care of the wound, there is no reason why the dog bite will heal any slower than any other kind of puncture. If you have concerns, however, or show any sign of infection, see a healthcare professional.

How Long Does it Take for a Dog Bite to Heal on a Dog?

Two dogs that live in the same household usually co-exist peacefully, and there are often plenty of opportunities to prevent a bout of canine fisticuffs in a dog park or other public place. Sometimes, however, dogs will fight with each other.

The good news is that dogs are believed to heal faster than humans. This is thought to, at least in part, to relate to the healing properties of canine saliva that we previously discussed.

If your dog is licking a wound, allow them to do so (provided it’s not to excess), and don’t worry if the previously warring hounds start to lick and groom each other. The chances are they are making their peace by attempting to help soothe any discomfort inflicted by teeth, claws and bad tempers.

How to Treat Dog Bites at Home

As we have already said, any child should immediately be taken to the ER after an animal attack. It is also advisable for a healthy adult to seek the help of a doctor or nurse after being bitten by a dog – especially if it was not your own. This will help you erase any concerns that you may have about infection.

If you are determined to treat the injury yourself, you should do so as though it was any other kind of cut or puncture. Wash and clean the wound and bandage it up, and keep it elevated until any bleeding ceases.

will a dog bite heal on its own without treatment

Then inspect the wound at least once per day, cleaning up wherever necessary and applying any oils that will aid in the rebuilding of the skin. If you have any worries, speak to a doctor. You may need a course of antibiotics to combat any potential infection.

Is Swelling Normal After a Dog Bite?

A little swelling after a dog bite is standard, along with redness and the obligatory sense of pain. This should only last around 24 hours though, so if the swelling seems reluctant to go down – or gets any worse – beyond this period, seek the advice of a healthcare professional.

The swelling should also not prevent you from going about your day, albeit leaving you a little uncomfortable. If the impacted area feels numb and impacts upon your motor function, or you start to leak pus from the swelling, it’s something more severe and requires medical attention.

Lumps Under the Skin After a Dog Bite

The impact of dog bites can sometimes be compared to icebergs below the ocean’s surface. We see the punctures and potential bleeding, but sometimes there is further impact under the skin – including hard lump. Sometimes this is scar tissue, caused by the skin growing back in a different position after a puncture, but it could be a sign of infection.

If you do spot any hard lumps beneath your skin as the result of a dog bite, have them checked out by a healthcare professional. If an infection is to blame it will usually be treated by a course of antibiotics if captured early enough, but if left alone or ignored the result could be something infinitely more serious such as an abscess or a staph infection.

The same also goes when it comes to checking your dog for signs of injury if another canine has bitten them. It’s not just clear and obvious bleeding that you need to be aware of; there could be many different lumps and bumps that will cause complications further down the line.

Other Dog Bite Symptoms

Many other possible symptoms are worth investigating if you are the victim of a dog bite.

These include the following:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue and Lethargy
  • Trouble Breathing
  • Swollen Glands

If you experience any of these symptoms, don’t just ignore it and chalk it up as part of the shock. You may have a severe infection from the dog bite and will need to take an appropriate course of medication.

Remember, one last time; dogs will not bite unless provoked! This guide is not intended to frighten anybody, and change their approach with our canine companions.

It just remains a fact of life that bites will happen, as dogs are animals. It pays to know what to do in such a situation – or better yet, how to avoid it in the first place!