Preventing and treating dog bites

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We love our four-legged friends. But, dog bites can and do happen.

Each year, about 4 million Americans are bitten by dogs, and nearly 800,000 need medical attention, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. The most common victims are children.

At Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, we tend to see an uptick in the number of dog bite cases beginning in May through September. During those months in 2012, we treated 87 kids for dog bites. Don’t let your child be a statistic this summer.

“It’s all about prevention,” said Dr. Michelle London, an Emergency Department physician.

There are some measures you can take to reduce the possibility of your child being bitten. Teach your children not to approach a strange dog, never go face to face with a dog or go near a dog when it’s eating, London said.

Dog bites can occur over food, added Erin Dobie, a certified nurse practitioner who also works in Children’s Emergency Department. Even if the dog is eating and a child drops a toy near the dish and bends down to pick it up, the dog could snap thinking that the child is going for the food. Dogs can also be provoked by kids pulling on tails or climbing on them.

If your child is bitten, here’s what to expect:

1. Get the child away from the dog as quickly as possible.

2. Be aware of the owner or the identity of the dog. While it shouldn’t be your top priority, it will help you determine later whether the dog is vaccinated.

3. Control bleeding and put pressure on the wound.

4. If skin isn’t broken, washing the wound is usually sufficient.

5. If it appears there may be a laceration, take your child to the Emergency Department.

6. In general, smaller puncture wounds are not sutured because of high risk of infection, but all dog bites need to be cleaned out well and prophylactic antibiotic treatment given to prevent infection whether or not they are sutured.

7. If a dog can be observed for 10 days after a bite (when it is not to the head, face or neck) and is well, then rabies vaccinations aren't recommended. However, patients still have the option at any time to start rabies vaccinations.

Kids’ health information center

Find information and resources about kids’ health from the Children’s of Minnesota education library.

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