Dog Bite (Child)

Dog bites can cause small puncture wounds or serious injuries. The area may swell and be painful. It may also bleed and seep fluid. Dog bites that reach the bone can cause a fracture, and damage nerves or blood vessels. Dog bites may also spread germs, causing infection. In rare cases, the animal can pass a disease like rabies or tetanus through the bite.

Dog bites are treated by first rinsing the wound with saline or sterile water. The skin is washed with a mild soap and warm water. If needed, the wound is closed with stitches (sutures). A clean pressure dressing may then be applied. A tetanus shot may be needed, especially if the child’s last shot was more than 5 years ago. An X-ray may also be needed. If it’s not known if the dog was vaccinated, rabies protocol may be followed. This involves keeping the dog isolated (quarantined) and giving the child a series of rabies shots. If the wound is severe or infected, a hospital stay may be needed.

An antibiotic cream or ointment or oral antibiotics may be prescribed. These help prevent or treat infection. Follow all instructions when applying or giving this medicine to your child.

Home care

General care

  • Wash your hands well with soap and clean, running water before and after caring for the wound. This helps lower the risk for infection.

  • Follow instructions on how to care for the wound. This may involve cleaning the wound with gentle soap and clean water. If a dressing was put on the wound, be sure to change it as directed.

  • If the wound bleeds, place a clean, soft cloth on the wound. Then firmly apply pressure until the bleeding stops. This may take up to 5 minutes. Don't release the pressure and look at the wound during this time.

  • Check the wound daily for signs of infection (see section below on seeking medical advice).

Prevention

Dogs usually don’t bite unless they are teased or threatened. At times, dogs bite during play. Small children are easy targets for dog bites. They move quickly and unpredictably. Also, children often don’t know how to be gentle with animals.

  • Keep babies away from all pets. Even a friendly dog may not understand that a baby is not a toy or prey.

  • Teach your child how to treat animals gently and with respect. This includes not approaching strange dogs or teasing dogs. Have your child ask the owner for permission before petting a strange dog.

  • Teach your child to never bother a dog that is eating, sleeping, or caring for puppies.

  • If you are thinking about getting a family pet, get advice from a vet about breeds that are best with children.

  • If you bring a dog into your home, train the dog to be obedient and listen to commands. You can have older children help with the training.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to seek medical advice

Call your child’s healthcare provider right away if your child has any of the following:

  • A fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Signs of infection around the wound, such as warmth, redness, swelling, or foul-smelling drainage.

  • Pain that gets worse. Babies may show pain as crying or fussing that can’t be soothed.

  • Bleeding that doesn’t stop after 5 minutes of firm pressure.

  • Trouble moving any body part near the wound.

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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