Dog Bite Infection

Known as man’s best friend, dogs are still animals that are capable of biting with quite sharp teeth. While the vast majority of dog bites are minor, there are still on average nearly 4.5 million Americans bitten by dogs each year, the majority of them young children whom are more susceptible than adults are to a dog bite. The Center for Disease Control states that, of those bites, approximately 20% need medical attention. Surprisingly, most of those bitten by a dog are either bitten by their own dog, or that of a close friend or relative, not a stray dog.

First-Aid for Dog Bites

After you or someone you know is bitten by a dog, you will want to act quickly in order to reduce the risk of serious injury or dog bite infection.

  • As such, the first step is to clean the wound thoroughly by running it under warm water.
  • After it has been cleaned, you will want to encourage the wound to bleed to prevent any bacteria from getting into the blood stream.
  • Lastly, depending upon the severity of the wound, you may wish to provide or take pain painkiller, especially ibuprofen which works to minimize both pain and inflammation.

Signs of Dog Bites Infection

It will be difficult to immediately know whether or not the dog bite wound has become infected, which is why you should pay close attention to any changes in the bite in the days immediately after the injury. Any sign of infection should be treated as soon as possible to avoid blood poisoning, infecting the brain, or infection of the heart.

The following are all signs of a potential dog bite infection:

  • More pain in the wound
  • Redness, tenderness or swelling surrounding the wound
  • Any type of fluid, such as pus, leaking from the wound
  • Fever above 38degrees Celsius, especially if combined with shivers
  • Lymph glands are swollen
  • Sensation loss around the wound
  • Limited use of the hand if bitten there
  • Any type of red streaks coming from the wound
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weakness of or tremors in the muscles

Seek Medical Help

Should you see any potential sign of infection, seek immediate medical help, especially in more sensitive areas of the body such as the extremities, genitals, face/scalp, nose, ears, tendons, or ligaments. Should the person bit have a pre-existing condition for which they currently receive medical treatment, even if the bite seems minor, medical advice should be sought. 

If the bite is not too severe, you will probably be treated at the doctor’s office or walk-in center. For a severe bite, you should head to the emergency room.

Causes of Dog Bites Infection

The most common cause of a dog bite infection is the bacterium that is transferred from the dog’s mouth to the wound or bacterium present in the environment that enters the wound once the skin has been opened by the bite. Since animals tend to spend a lot of time outside, their bites are considered to be polymicrobial because multiple bacteria species will be involved. With the mixture of dog bite bacteria, you run the risk of developing tetanus, which affects the nervous system. Tetanus most often occurs from puncture wound bites.

Treatment for Dog Bites Infection

Wound Care

Caring for the wound properly is the best way to prevent infection, and to help heal from an infection quickly. First, assess and clean the wound. If there is any dead/damaged skin, gently pull or trim it off so no infection develops from it. Of course, if in doubt of how to clean and dress the wound yourself, seek medical attention.

Usually, animal bites heal better on their own as the body knows how to care for itself. Deciding not to stitch a wound is especially common if the wound is over six hours old. Once stitched up, it would be difficult to treat any potential infections.

If a wound is exceptionally deep, it may have damaged muscle tissues or tendons and may require surgery in order to have a full recovery.

Antibiotic Medicines

If an infection is found, or believed to be likely, a doctor may prescribe the wounded individual an antibiotic course for the following reasons:

  • When bitten by a cat.
  • When a bite is on the arm or leg, especially the hand.
  • Large, deep, or puncture wounds result in antibiotics because of the amount of damage and risk of infection.
  • If the bite results in surgery, you will need antibiotics to keep your body healthy through the operation and afterwards.
  • Those who have a low resistance to infection, such as those with diabetes or undergoing chemotherapy.
  • Any type of artificial heart valve or joint necessitates antibiotics to further support your immune system.

Even if it is already an infected dog bite and the wound has started to heal slightly, you may need an antibiotic to prevent the infection from spreading further. This is especially true if the wound becomes more painful, more swollen, or begins oozing fluids.

Safety Tips

  • Never approach an animal you are not familiar with unless its owner is present.
  • Never approach an animal quickly or from above, but give the dog time to sense your presence and acknowledge you.
  • When visiting a friend who has a dog, first ask if it is okay to pet the dog before attempting to do so.
  • Should the dog become agitated, stay calm and do not scream, run, or make eye contact.
  • When an unfamiliar dog is eating, sleeping, or caring for puppies, do not approach it.
  • Young children and infants should not be left unsupervised with an animal.
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