Most dog owners never expect their dogs to bite someone. Yet every year, America sees roughly 4.5 million dog bites, about 800,000 of which require medical attention. This is why it’s so important to understand the risks of dog bites and what you can do to prevent them.
In this article, we’ll cover who is most at risk for dog bites, how to mitigate those risks, and what you should do if your dog bites someone. We’ll end by discussing the diseases that may lurk in your pup’s saliva and when to seek medical attention.
- Why Do Dogs Bite?
- Who is Most at Risk for Dog Bites?
- Lowering Your Risk of Dog Bites
- What To Do When a Dog Bites You
- Diseases Transmittable by Dog Bites
- When to Seek Medical Attention
Why Do Dogs Bite?
While most dogs make great companions, any one of them can bite. Sometimes dog bites feel out of the blue, but dogs always bite for a reason.
Here we’ll cover the most common reasons for dog bites:
Most aggressive dog behavior comes from a place of fear. Dogs bite if they believe someone who might pose a threat is too close to their personal space.
A dog that’s startled or confused by a sudden noise or presence can respond with a snap. Especially if your dog has been sleeping, your pup may react defensively to a sudden confusing encounter.
Protecting / Guarding
Sometimes dogs bite when they believe something valuable might be taken away. If your dog has a toy or a treat it’s holding onto, sometimes it’s best to keep your distance.
Dogs bite and mouth each other while playing. When playing with humans, your dog might not understand how much biting is OK. You can address this with training.
In Pain or Stress
Dogs are much more likely to bite when they are in pain or stressed out. Even dogs that are very tolerant of people might get overwhelmed if they are sick or injured. Be very careful if your dog seems stressed, sick, or injured.
Who is Most at Risk for Dog Bites?
Not everyone carries equal risk for dog attacks. Unsurprisingly, people with dogs at home are most likely to find their hands turned into chew toys. Most dog bites happen with animals familiar to the victim. The more dogs you own, the greater your risk.
Dogs tend to bite children more than adults. Kids are also more susceptible to serious injuries when snapped.
Studies have also found dogs bite more men than women. Among adults, anxious people are more at risk than calm ones. However, no one is immune.
Next, we’ll discuss how anyone can lower their likelihood of dog attacks.
Lowering Your Risk of Dog Bites
While your risk will never be zero, here are a few tips to reduce your chance of getting chomped.
- Don’t approach an unfamiliar dog.
- Always ask the owner before petting someone else’s dog. Let the dog sniff your hand first too.
- Hold still if approached by an unfamiliar dog. Avoid panicking, running, or making sudden noises. Instead, stand with the side of your body facing the dog and say “No” or “Go Home” in a firm, deep voice.
- Leave a dog alone when it’s sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
- Don’t let small children play around dogs without supervision.
- Never encourage your dog to play aggressively.
What To Do When a Dog Bites You
If you ever find yourself on the wrong end of a vicious dog attack, remember these tips:
Protect Yourself During the Attack:
- Put something between yourself and the dog’s snapping mouth, like a jacket, purse, or backpack.
- If you’re knocked down, curl into a ball and protect your neck and ears with your hands.
Treat the Wounds
- Wash the wounds with soap and water.
- Apply antibiotic ointment.
- For deep wounds, apply pressure to stop bleeding.
See a Healthcare Provider if:
- The wounds are serious and deep.
- You’re unsure if the dog has been vaccinated against rabies.
- You notice signs of infection such as redness or swelling.
- You haven’t had a tetanus shot in more than five years.
Report the Bite
- Contact Animal Control or your local police department, especially if you’re concerned about rabies.
- Contact the dog’s owner to make sure their pooch is up to date on its vaccines.
Diseases Transmittable by Dog Bites
Dogs sometimes carry disease in their saliva. Our furry friends will chew on sticks, dead animals, grass, thrown-out food, and any pungent thing lying around in the park. This leads to a buffet of bacteria between their teeth.
Here are a few of the diseases you can catch from dog bites and their symptoms:
Rabies is one of the most dangerous diseases communicable by dogs. Fatal if not treated, this viral infection attacks the brain and central nervous system.
Rabies symptoms include:
- Excessive Salivation
- Muscle Spasms
- Mental Confusion
Fortunately, this virus is extremely rare. With only one to three reported U.S. cases a year, catching rabies is like winning the lottery. Except the prize is terrible.
If caught in time, rabies responds well to treatment. Your chance of death is slim. Still, be careful if you’re bitten by a dog that foamed at the mouth, behaved erratically, or had not been vaccinated. Seek immediate medical attention if you think you might have been exposed.
Speaking of diseases that attack the central nervous system, you should also probably watch out for tetanus after a dog bite.
Tetanus spreads by bacterial infection and causes:
- Muscle Spasms
Tetanus mostly appears in wounds or punctures infected with feces or saliva. The spores of Clostridium tetani, the culprit organism, can survive a long time outside the body before getting into wounds.
Like rabies, tetanus can kill you if not treated in time. Tetanus is also relatively rare, with only about 30 U.S. cases a year. Your best defense against tetanus is vaccination, as unfortunately, this disease is difficult to treat and often takes months of aggressive antibiotics.
Pasteurella is one of the most common infectious organisms lurking in your puppy’s mouth. This bacteria is found in over half of infected dog bite wounds.
Pasteurella symptoms include:
Pasteurella infects about 30,000 to 40,000 Americans a year. It’s usually only life-threatening for people with compromised immune systems, but those infected may still need antibiotic treatment, especially if the dog bite victim is a child.
MRSA stands for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. Basically, it’s an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection. Staphylococcus is a hardy bacteria that’s difficult to treat, and staph infections kill more than 20,000 Americans a year.
MRSA symptoms include:
These infections typically only become dangerous if they spread into your bloodstream, joints, or organs. Prompt treatment is important, so don’t wait on MRSA.
Capnocytophaga is a typically benign bacteria that lives in the mouths of cats and dogs. Most people won’t have a problem with this micro-organism. However, this little bug can easily invade the bodies of people with compromised immune systems.
Capnocytophaga symptoms typically include:
- Pus Drainage
- Muscle or Joint Pain
When to Seek Medical Attention
While most of these diseases are only life-threatening in rare cases, you’re always better safe than sorry. Seek medical attention if you have any reason to believe your dog bite is infected.
Early warning signs of infection include:
- A warm feeling around the wound
- Drainage or pus
- Pain that lasts more than 24 hours
Signs the infection has advanced include:
- Night Sweats
Seek medical attention if you notice any of these symptoms after a dog bite. Talk to the owner to ensure their dog has been properly vaccinated.
While you’re at it, make sure you’ve had your vaccines as well. You wouldn’t want to be caught without a shot the day you win the rabies lottery.
Main Photo Credit: Freegr / Pixabay