For most of us, we have had cases or near-cases of dog chases or some form of aggressiveness from dogs. Sometimes, this leads to mild to severe cases of dog bites or scratches. This incidence may occur with a stray dog, a known dog, even your own dog or more commonly, a rabid dog. It may also happen when you taunt or maltreat a dog, or when you are just playing with the dog (especially for temperamental and untrained dogs). Although strays or other strange dogs can bite, most of the time people are actually bitten by a dog they know, which could be a friend’s dog or even the family pet.
It is important to always bear in mind that the canine teeth can bite or scratch, sometimes without warning and sometimes with fatal results for the human affected. During a dog bite, a dog’s front teeth will grab and compress your flesh, and their smaller teeth can also tear your skin resulting in an open, jagged wound. If the wound becomes infected, it is often severe and complicated.
When a dog bites you, whether you are familiar with the dog or not (and this includes being the owner of the dog), you must take certain steps IMMEDIATELY to treat the wound, to reduce the risk of infection, and to protect yourself from a possible spread of rabies infection. In fact, you will need professional medical attention within 6-8 hours of dog bite that same day and waiting longer than a day raises yours risk of infection. This is because dog bites usually introduce bacteria, including staphylococcus, streptococcus and pasteurella. The risk is even greater for people with diabetes or whose immune system has been compromised. Also, unvaccinated and roaming/wild dogs with rabies virus can also transfer the disease to humans. Therefore, in cases of dog bites, the attending doctor will want to know details about the dog that bit you.
While an attack or bite from an aggressive dog may be sudden, knowing what to do after will not only benefit your health, but can also help in any legal or police case that might come from your attack. The following steps must be taken immediately after a dog bite; –
- If the wound is mild, press on the wound gently to cause some bleeding to help flush out as much bacteria as possible. However, if the wound is severe and you are losing a lot of blood, call for help and ask health/emergency workers and try to stop your bleeding.
- In potential legal cases between you and the dog owners, you might need to take pictures of the dog wound for evidence.
- Wash the wound with mild soap and water.
- Slow the bleeding with a clean cloth.
- Apply over-the counter antibiotic cream if you have it.
- Wrap the wound in a sterile bandage. Keep the wound bandaged and see your doctor.
- Change the bandage several times a day once your doctor has examined the wound.
- Watch out for signs of infection on the wound. This includes redness, swelling, increased pain and fever.
- See your doctor immediately and speak with a veterinarian concerning the dog that bit you (if the dog and dog owner is known)
Your doctor will do the following; –
- Your doctor will want to know more about the dog that bit you and how it happened. Ensure that the information you give your doctor is true and accurate as it will help and guide your doctor to administer the right treatment for you. Again, get the right information on time and find out which dog bit you and the dog owner if known. You can talk to any witnesses of your dog bite and get their contact information. If you do not know the dog that bit you or you are sure it’s a stray dog, make sure to report the bite to your local animal control office or police.
- Your doctor will examine the injury to see whether the bite was deep enough to damage muscles, tendons, nerves, or bones. Then the doctor will thoroughly clean the bite wound to remove any dirt or bacteria, and may also remove dead tissues from the wound. He or she will also likely clean the wound again, apply antibiotic ointment and may prescribe antibiotics.
- Your doctor will give you an anti-rabies post-prophylaxis vaccine, just in case a rabid dog bit you. Naturally, anybody who has been bitten a dog in Nigeria compulsorily gets an antirabies vaccine. This is because rabies is considered endemic in Nigeria and because our leash laws are not well implemented in our communities, leaving stray dogs to roam around. (Read more about Rabies here)
- Your doctor may also give you a booster tetanus shot if your tetanus vaccine is out-of-date.
- If the wound requires it, your doctor may recommend stitches. However, dog wounds are usually left open to heal unless they are on the face or if they could leave particularly severe scars if left unsutured
- You may need cosmetic surgery if you have very deep wounds. You may also need pain medication, or other medical attention for your dog bites. Get the right medical advice for this from your doctor.
- Follow the doctor’s orders strictly and take all medications given to you as directed. Ensure you contact your doctor if you are suffering from an infection, nerve damage, or other problems related to your initial bites.
How to prevent dog bites
- When choosing a dog for a family pet, pick one with a good temperament.
- Stay away from any dogs you don’t know and never leave young children alone with a dog – especially an unfamiliar dog.
- Don’t try to play with any dog that is eating or feeding her puppies.
- Whenever you approach a dog, do so slowly, and give the dog the chance to approach you.
- If a dog becomes aggressive, as much as you may want to, do not run away or scream. Stay calm, move slowly, and don’t make eye contact with the dog.