By: Johnathan Cooper and Nabil Ebraheim, MD

The United States has a dog-friendly culture, but it is important to remember the dangers of living with and approaching dogs. 4.5 million dog bites occur annually in the US, more than cat bites and human bites. The dog is usually familiar with the victim in approximately 90% of the cases. It is important to know how to avoid dog bites and what to do if you are bitten so that you, your friends and your family can stay safe.

How to Safely Avoid a Dog Bite

1. Stay calm near unfamiliar dogs.

It is best to avoid approaching unfamiliar dogs, but if one approaches you, stay still, quiet, and avoid eye contact with the dog. If you use a commanding voice telling them to leave when they approach, the dog will likely retreat.

2. Do not disturb dogs that are sleeping, eating, or caring for their puppies.

Dogs are vulnerable when sleeping and eating, and provoking the dog may lead them to attack.

3. Do not attempt to break up dogs when they’re fighting.

This is very important. The dogs may see you as another opponent to defend themselves against and attack you.

4. Do not let children play with dogs unsupervised.

Animal bites are common among children, and the majority of dog bites occur in children between 5 and 9 years of age. Sadly, the majority of deaths resulting from dog bites occur in infants. Children should never be left alone with dogs regardless of how friendly they may seem.

5. Curl into a ball with your hands over your head and neck if a dog attacks.

If a dog attacks you, do your best to keep something in between your body and the dog such as a backpack, umbrella, or purse. If you do not have any physical object, curling into a ball and protecting your head and neck is the best way to stay safe.

6. Report stray and suspicious dogs to animal control.

This action could help lost dogs return safely home and may also prevent other people from being attacked by unfriendly dogs in the future.

Characteristics of the Bite

Dog bite attacks can be severe. Bites can cause extensive soft tissue and structural damage. Their teeth tear and crush soft tissue. Bites occur in the upper extremities (hand, wrist, forearm, elbow, upper arm, and shoulder) more often than the lower extremities (hip, thigh, knee, lower leg, ankle, and foot).

How to Recover if You are Bitten by a Dog

1. Wash the wound with soap and water.

Antibacterial soap kills bacteria which reduces the risk of infection from diseases such as rabies, tetanus, MRSA, and pasteurella that are often found in dog bites.

2. Cover the wound and apply pressure.

If the wound is small, antibiotic ointment and a band aid should be sufficient in keeping the wound clean. If the wound is large or deep, apply pressure using gauze or a clean cloth to limit bleeding.

3. Contact your physician for additional care and advice.

Tell them about the attack, describe the wound (swollen, red, size, location), and how you are feeling. If the injury is severe, immediately go to the ER.

4. Report the incident to animal control.

Report the dog’s characteristics, location of the attack, and their owner if possible.

5. If you suspect the dog was infected or you begin to feel ill, go to the ER.

Infections are typically insidious and do not seem obvious until symptoms such as fever arise. If you suspect the dog was infected with a disease- especially if they made an unprovoked attack- go to the ER. It is better to go to the ER and find out that you do not have an infection than it is to not go to the ER and find out later that you do have an infection.

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