They may be our best friends, but dogs are still animals and they can bite. In fact, dogs bite about 4.5 million Americans every year, half of them children between ages 5 and 9. One out of every five of those bites causes an injury that requires medical attention, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Children are also more likely than adults to be injured by a dog bite.
As of 1994, an estimated 34 million American households owned at least one dog, accounting for a canine population in the United States in excess of 55 million.1,2,4 Most dogs never bite a human; however, under certain circumstances, any dog is capable of inflicting harm. The most common victims of dog bites are children, especially in incidents that prove fatal.2,5–7 Almost one half of all reported cases of dog bites involve an animal owned by the victim’s family or the victim’s neighbors.3 Most victims are involved in normal, nonprovoking activities before the dog attacks.2 For example, neonatal deaths resulting from a dog bite most often involve a sleeping baby.1,2
Several dog breeds have been identified for their role in fatal dog bite attacks, including pit bull breeds, malamutes, chows, Rottweilers, huskies, German shepherds and wolf hybrids.1,2,8 From 1979 to 1988, pit bull breeds accounted for more than 41 percent of dog bite-related fatalities, three times as many as German shepherds.
Severe bites that need medical treatment will be cleaned, with any damaged or dead tissue removed (known as debridement).
If there’s a risk of infection, the wound will be left open, as this makes it easier to keep it clean. If the risk of infection is believed to be low, the wound can be stitched up.
Wounds that bleed excessively will be closed to prevent blood loss, despite the risk of infection.
Antibiotics are given as a precaution when it’s believed there’s an increased risk of infection. They’re usually recommended for:
- animal bites to the hands, feet or face
- any bites that have caused puncture wounds
- wounds that need to be closed due to excessive bleeding
- wounds that require debridement (removal of damaged tissue)
- wounds that involve joints, ligaments or tendons
- people with prosthetic (artificial) joints or valves
- people with a weakened immune system (immunosuppression) from a health condition such as diabetes or HIV, or as a side effect of treatments such as chemotherapy or a splenectomy (removal of the spleen)
In most cases, a three-day course of an antibiotic called co-amoxiclav is recommended, as it’s a broad-spectrum antibiotic (effective against a wide range of different bacteria).
Co-amoxiclav is available in tablet or liquid form. Possible side effects include nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Co-amoxiclav belongs to the penicillin family of antibiotics, so it won’t be suitable for you if you have a previous history of penicillin allergy (which affects around 1 in 15 people).
If you do, you should tell the doctor in charge of your care. Alternative antibiotics are available, such as doxycycline or ciprofloxacin hydrochloride in combination with metronidazole.
Additional treatment may be required if you have:
- a deep puncture wound that may have damaged bones, joints, muscles, tendons or nerves
- a facial wound
- a bite where a foreign body, such as a tooth, may be embedded in the wound
- a wound to an area with a reduced blood supply, such your nose or ears (wounds to these areas could take longer to heal and have a higher risk of infection)
- an infected wound that doesn’t respond to treatment
Further reconstructive surgery may be required for serious or complex wounds. Serious infections, or infections that don’t respond to oral antibiotics, can be treated with injections of antibiotics (intravenous antibiotics).