Being bitten by a dog can be a frightening experience for anybody, so it’s no surprise that many people that experience an attack during childhood growing up with an all-consuming phobia of our canine companions.
Very few dogs will bite without warning, and for no reason. It would be a regrettable turn of events to cross paths with a needlessly aggressive hound that sinks their teeth into human flesh. Biting is always considered a last resort by frightened dogs. Petful also lists a useful set of warning behaviors that any canine will exhibit before lunging at you with the intention of using its sharp teeth.
If an accident is going to happen, however, it pays to be prepared. This article will talk you through the aftermath of a dog bite – whether the swelling is normal or something to be worried about, and how to proceed with your day.
Table of Contents:
Why Would a Dog Bite Me?
The usual answer to this question is fear – pure and simple. Regardless of what scare stories and urban myths you may have heard, dogs rampaging around attacking and biting strangers is a rare occurrence. Sure, they may display aggressive behaviors toward strangers, but this is all bravado to mask the fact that the canine is afraid.
It’s also possible that a dog is acting aggressively against their usual nature because they are sick, but that also amounts to a fear-based response for the hound in question. They do not feel like themselves, and this worries them.
Entering what a dog considers to be ‘their’ territory, applying physical pressure that we consider to be displaying affection but a pooch finds restrictive, making eye contact … all of these actions can be seen as aggressive to a dog, and they’ll tell you so in their way.
If you ignore the “back off!” cues that your dog is attempting to display – which include barking, growling and baring their teeth – they may bite a human in a desperate attempt at protecting themselves.
Think of this behavior as a dog attempting to hurt you before you could hurt them – it’s the canine equivalent of the fight-or-flight response that the human amygdala produces in times of high stress and worry.
How Can I Avoid Being Bitten by a Dog?
If you encounter an aggressive dog and you are not sure how to proceed, do not try to calm them down by stroking. This may be reassuring to your pet in times of duress, but a strange hound doesn’t know what your intentions are.
They will see a hand moving toward them, and it’s entirely reasonable that they assume that you’re trying to strike them – especially if they pick up the scent of fearful pheromones emanating from you.
As the CDC has bags of experience in dealing with animal bites that lead to infection, they have been good enough to provide some pointers on how to avoid being bitten by a dog.
These include the following:
- Avoid approaching strange dogs, especially those not accompanied by humans. If you do wish to pet a dog that you bump into, always check with the owner first – some canines will not welcome human interaction.
- If a strange dog approaches you, don’t make any sudden movements or noises – this may frighten them. Dogs are not shy about letting you know how they feel. They may sniff you and walk away, or they may sit calmly and make it clear that they want some attention and would welcome a stroke.
- If you don’t want anything to do with the animal, speak clearly and firmly in simple language. Give a command such as, “leave” or “go home.”
- Never make eye contact with a strange dog. This is seen as an act of dominance in canine circles, and it may encourage a territorial dog to start behaving aggressively.
If the dog shows signs of aggression, you should avoid the temptation to turn tail and run. It’ll be tempting, but the fact is an aggressive dog will see this as a prey response, and their hunting instincts will kick in, leading to them giving chase and sinking their teeth into you.
Instead, try the following:
- Take one very slow step backward, still avoiding eye contact and raising your hands, tucking your elbows in.
- Rotate your body to the side, rather than looking straight on at the dog or turning your back on them.
- If the dog lunges, curl into a ball and protect your face, head, and neck with your hands. If you’re carrying anything like a bag, try to use that as a barrier. Do not fight back – this will aggravate the dog further, and make them more aggressive.
If you follow this advice, you should be able to avoid any unpleasant entanglements with a dog. Accidents may happen though, as a canine bites one in five American citizens every year. In such a situation always remember that a dog bite is a response to fear, not bellicosity.
What Parts of the Body Might a Dog Bite?
If a dog is driven to bite, it won’t be a conscious decision based upon weighing up all the possible parts of the human anatomy that may hurt most. It will be an action borne of pure instinct, and they’ll sink their teeth into the first place they can find.
This may be an ankle or lower leg, meaning that you’ll be theoretically protected to clothing. It could be the hand that was previously stroking or attempting to appease them, especially if the canine mistakes this for an attempted strike. If you’re incredibly unlucky, it may even be the face!
Wherever you’ve been attacked, if the dog bite breaks the skin the first thing you’ll need to know is how to clean a dog bite wound in a human. Once you have done so, assess the wound and decide what action may be necessary – and whether you’ll need medical attention.
Dog Bite Swelling and Bruising
If you’re unfortunate enough to be bitten by a dog, you will almost certainly notice substantial swelling and bruising around the impacted area. This is normal and by itself nothing to worry about. However, you should still seek medical attention if you have any concerns about infection.
This is especially important if it was not your dog that bit you, as you won’t know the medical history of the canine in question. Even if it was your pet that turned upon you, seek medical attention if their vaccinations are not up to date. It may lead to some awkward questions about your dog’s behavior and why they displayed such aggression, but it’s possible that you’ll need a Tetanus shot at the very least.
How Do I Know if a Dog Bite is Infected?
There are many symptoms of infection caused by an animal bite.
Among the most common symptoms are:
- Leaking of Pus and Other Fluid
If you experience any of these symptoms, get yourself to the ER post-haste, especially if you already live with an existing health condition that could compromise your immune system. As we have already stated, swelling is very common – but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Rabies has mostly been eliminated in the western world, but there are still a handful of cases recorded each year.
You will also need to brace yourself if it was your dog that but you and caused the infection, as it could mean that they are sick – which, in turn, may explain why they attacked if the aggression was out character.
If there is no underlying reason for the infection, maybe your dog’s oral health has room for improvement, and they have bacteria living with their teeth and mouths. Check out our guide to how to brush a dog’s teeth to improve this (and hope that they don’t bite you again in retaliation!)
My Dog Bit My Child, and it’s Really Swollen
You’ll need to get the child in question to a pediatrician with immediate effect, as young people with underdeveloped immune systems are particularly at risk from dog bites. It’s usually nothing too serious, but treatment or antibiotics may be required – and, of course, it’s going to hurt, and your little one is likely to scream the house down!
Unfortunately, children are also most at risk of meeting the sharp end of Fido’s temper – and his teeth. If you’re going to bring a dog into a family home and contains young children (or vice versa if the dog came first), never leave your child alone with the pet. Games like attempting to ride the dog like a pony, pulling its tail and running away or poking him or her in the eye seem like great fun to a child, but a canine’s patience is only finite, and sooner or later they may snap – especially if a child does not understand their warning cues.
This goes double for strange dogs that you interact with while out and about with your children. Most kids love animals and will let out a gleeful cry of, “doggy!” when they see such a critter pottering along the street, but teach your child to check with the dog’s owner that they are happy to be approached before attempting to stroke or otherwise offer attention to the hound in question.
Should I Report the Dog That Bit Me?
This is between you, your conscience and the owner of the dog – assuming that is not you, of course! There is no law to claim that a dog bite must be reported, but anybody that suffers a canine attack is within their rights to inform the police or their local authority, especially if they consider the animal to be out of control or dangerous.
Just think carefully before you report a dog bite, as the consequences on the pooch can be quite severe. Obviously, an unruly canine should not be tolerated, especially if they are placing other people at risk, but remember that a dog attacking for no reason is very rare.
Just because you do not understand Fido’s logic and consider his reaction to being wholly unreasonable, it doesn’t mean that he didn’t have a good reason in his mind for biting and that you missed many warning cues before it reached this stage.
As an aside, if it was your dog that bit you and this is wholly out of character for them, you should make an appointment with a vet to ensure that this behavior does not stem from a health concern.
Can I Sue the Owner of the Dog That Bit Me?
You can. That doesn’t mean that you should, but you can. The owner of a dog will be legally liable for their pet’s actions, and if those behaviors include biting you may have a case to seek reparations. The burden of proof will lay upon you as the plaintiff though, so you will have to prove beyond question that the dog truly bit you for no reason.
Why Do Dog Bites Swell?
As we have mentioned, swelling can often by a warning sign of infection from a dog bite. More often than not this is a reaction to the saliva found in a dog’s teeth and mouth. If you have an allergy, this swelling is likely to be magnified and potentially accompanied by a variety of other symptoms. Thankfully, swelling by itself is perfectly normal after a dog bite.
Unless the canine that sank their teeth into you is living with a health condition or infection, the reaction to a dog bite will not be particularly different from that of an insect. If the bite doesn’t break the skin, the swelling should be minimal. If you are left bleeding after the attack, make sure you apply the appropriate first aid and then speak to a healthcare professional.
How Long Does Swelling Last After a Dog Bite?
How long is a piece of string? The average dog bit healing time is entirely dependent on many factors. Some of the important questions that you’ll have to answer before being able to make an educated guess as to how long it will take your bite to heal include:
- Did the dog bite break the skin?
- What part of your anatomy was bitten?
- Did the wound grow infected, or did your dog pass on a bacterial infection of his or her own?
- Are you otherwise in good health, or are there any reasons why your healing may be delayed?
As a general rule of thumb, wounds above the waist will heal sooner than those below due to a higher supply of blood. If you failed to clean up the wound straight after the bite (we can’t stress enough how important this is!), you are at huge risk of allowing a secondary infection to take hold. You can then expect the wound to begin closing up almost immediately and turn to a scab within 24 hours – significantly longer if you experienced a deep cut. This scab will then heal over and become scar tissue after a month or so.
If you still experience dog bite pain months later, there may be something more serious afoot. Seek medical attention within 24 hours of the incident, regardless of the impact the bite may appear to be having on you, and check back in with a healthcare professional if the discomfort and physical symptoms show no sign of easing after a few days.
Dog Bite Swelling Treatment
Once you have cleaned up the wound inflicted by a dog bite and stemmed any bleeding, it will be time to turn your attention to minimizing the impact of the swelling.
Take the following action to improve the condition of the bite wound:
- Sit down. The more you rest the affected area, the faster it will heal. Sure, you’ll have to make an appointment with a doctor, but everything else can wait for a while.
- Elevate the bitten body part and apply ice. This will restrict how much blood can reach the injury, and thus reduce the swelling far quicker than would happen by itself.
- Apply a bandage. Constant pressure will also help the swelling and should make the injury more comfortable as it minimizes the constant throb.
- Take your medication. Your doctor will probably prescribe you a course of antibiotics to ensure that your symptoms are not a result of a bacterial infection, possibly some NSAIDs to calm down the swelling, and perhaps some pain relief. Dig bites can hurt, above all else. Don’t skip out on any of these, or stop the course early because “you feel fine.” Drugs will be prescribed for a reason.
If pain management medications do not seem to be having any impact, speak to a healthcare professional ASAP – don’t just take a trip to the drugstore and purchase stronger over the counter remedies. This may be your body trying to tell you something, and further tests may have to be run.
Will My Health Insurance Provider Treat a Dog Bite?
That depends on your policy, and what insurance provider you use. There is no reason why they should not, however.
As we have outlined, the treatment is relatively typical and will revolve around ointments, antibiotics, and dressings, though there will also be a charge incurred for any scans and x-rays that you need to undertake.
The most important thing is to be entirely accurate when filling in your medical insurance claim, so try to note as much as you can about the incident – including when, why and how it happened.
There’s a Lump Under My Skin After a Dog Bite
This is a result of scar tissue that has formed beneath the skin, which is a very common result of dog bites. These may not go away by themselves, so if they are causing you any pain or discomfort seek the advice of a healthcare professional, as a surgeon may be able to drain the impacted area. An alternative method could be to speak to a masseuse, who may be able to maneuver the hard tissue around.
I Feel Sick After a Dig Bite
It can be, but make sure you inform a healthcare professional about this symptom. Feeling sick and nauseous may be a result of entering shock following a dog bite, especially emotional shock and trauma.
However, if a high temperature and fever or any vomiting spell also accompany the sick sensation, you may be suffering from a bacterial infection at the hands (well, teeth) of your dog bite.
Get yourself to an ER or clinic as quickly as possible, and ensure that you explain how you’re feeling. It won’t be life-threatening in most cases, but it can be very unpleasant, and you’ll want to begin a course of medication as quickly as possible.
I Feel Numbness After a Dig Bite
If the part of your body bitten by a dog feels numb for any prolonged period of time after the immediate incident, you should seek immediate medical attention. It’s unlikely, but it’s possible that the animal attack has severed or damaged your any chances.
Swelling after being bitten by a dog is a very standard reaction, and in and of itself is nothing to worry about. That doesn’t mean that you should ignore any symptoms that follow an animal attack though, and it’s always essential to get yourself checked out by a healthcare professional. Once you have the thumbs up from a doctor, then go about your day as normal – but maybe avoid any dogs for a while in case you’ve inadvertently made an inter-species enemy.