When a Dog Bites Your Child: Treat the Wound Yourself or Call the Doctor?

If your child came running to you after being bitten by a dog, would you know what constitutes a serious, or minor, dog bite? And would you know when to have the bite seen by a doctor or when you should treat it yourself?

Regrettably, there are 4.7 million dog bites in the United States reported by victims each year. In fact, 800,000 Americans seek medical assistance following dog bites and 386,000 are treated in hospital emergency rooms due to dog bites. Tragically, about a dozen people die annually in the United States as a result of dog bites.

A particularly frightening part of this scenario is that children account for the highest number of victims of dog bites. Children ages five to nine account for the single largest group injured by dogs. As children get older, they report fewer dog bites.

Tragically, nearly two-thirds of the injuries from bites to children four years and younger are to the head and neck regions. Also, statistics show boys are involved in many more of these incidents than girls.

So those are the ugly statistics. But what do you do if you have to treat a wound caused by a bite? First, let’s assume the offending dog has had its rabie shot, wears a license and, most likely, is known to you or your family.

To treat the victim of such a dog bite you first determine the severity of the wound. For instance, if a dog bite barely breaks the skin, treat it as you might most minor wounds. Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and follow that with an antibiotic cream and cover with a bandage.

A more serious dog bite will penetrate deeply into an arm or leg and even tear the skin. The first thing which must be done is apply a cloth firmly on the wound until any bleeding has stopped. Next, a doctor will need to assess the severity of the wound to determine whether stitches are needed or other types of treatment such as a tetanus shot.

In the hours and days following a bite, if any redness develops around the site of the injury, or swelling, oozing or pain, a doctor must be contacted to rule out that the wound has become infected.

(It is worth mentioning that the bite from a rabbit, squirrel or other rodent rarely results in a victim contracting rabies. However, animal bites from raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes are more commonly associated with spreading rabies. Common sense indicates that if you are bit by an animal, let your doctor decide whether he or she wishes to examine you.)

Health organizations throughout the country are working with state and local governments to educate the public about preventing dog bites. An important function of these programs is to nationally track trends on dog bites. Also, state and local agencies are being urged to begin reaching out to explain to the public what can be done to prevent this largely preventable public health problem.

There are recommended steps families can take before bringing a dog into their home. Most importantly, consult a veterinarian or dog breeder to try and determine what might be a suitable breed for your home.

Of course, any individual dog with a history of aggression is dangerous to have in a home with children. Also, try to “read” your children to discover whether they are fearful or worried about having a dog in their house. If they seem to be, delay acquiring a dog.

Experts also suggest spending time with a dog prior to purchasing or adopting it. Additionally, use extreme caution when introducing a dog into a home with an infant or toddler.

One of the benefits of spaying or neutering a dog is it seems to reduce aggressive tendencies in the animal. Also, by not playing aggressive games with a dog, such as wrestling and “rough housing,” you may avoid future problems.

All dogs kept in a home need to learn to socialize and accept discipline such as rolling over to expose its abdomen and giving up kitchen food without growling. Also, remember to immediately seek advice from a veterinarian or breeder if a dog suddenly shows signs of aggressive or other inappropriate behavior.

Other do’s and don’ts for a child to be taught about dogs include:
>Do not approach an unfamiliar dog.
>Do not run from a dog and scream.
>Remain motionless (e.g., “be still like a tree”) when approached by an unfamiliar dog.
>If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball and lie still (e.g., “be still like a log”).
>Do not play with a dog unless supervised by an adult.
>Immediately report stray dogs or dogs displaying unusual behavior to an adult.
>Avoid direct eye contact with a dog.
>Do not disturb a dog which is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
>Do not pet a dog without allowing it to see and sniff you first.
>If bitten, immediately show the bite to an adult.

For many people, their dog is a member of their family. However, keep in mind that a dog is an animal and can never behave in ways which are as predictable or consistent as human beings. Use common sense and caution to keep your loved ones safe around dogs.

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