What Should You Do If a Dog Bites You?

Updated on March 1, 2022

Dogs are one of America’s most beloved pets, and they offer benefits to the lives of their owners, including companionship. Most dogs are fairly docile however accidents and situations can still occur. Approximately 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, making it a more common occurrence than you might initially realize. 

A dog has powerful jaws and they can do serious damage in certain instances. Some of the potential complications of a dog bite can include:

  • Neurological damage when nerves aren’t able to properly regenerate—this can lead to loss of mobility, numbness or tingling 
  • An infection can occur with a dog bite because a dog’s mouth has millions of bacteria, and there’s a risk this bacteria could infect a bite wound. There’s also the potential that the infection might develop secondary to the wound as it’s healing. 
  • A dog attack can be incredibly traumatic and can cause post-traumatic stress and mental health effects. 

Certain diseases can be passed through dog bites, and these include:

  • Rabies
  • Capnocytophaga bacteria
  • Pasteurella
  • MRSA

Many of the bacteria that can be passed through a dog bite won’t cause a human to become sick unless they have a weakened immune system. 

Almost one in five people who are bitten by a dog need medical help, and any dog can bite. 

It’s also not just strangers’ dogs you have to worry about. More than half of dog bite injuries occur at home, and they’re from dogs we know and are familiar with. When there are two or more dogs in a house, the likelihood of a bite is five times greater. 

It’s important to think about the prevention of dog bites.

For example, don’t approach a stranger’s dog to pet it without asking the owner, and if an unfamiliar dog approaches you, you should stay still. 

You also shouldn’t encourage aggressive play with your own dogs, or ever let a child be with a dog unsupervised.

Despite our best efforts, there is still a chance a dog bite can occur, and the following are some steps to take if so. 

What To Do Immediately After a Dog Bite

If a dog bites you, the first thing you should do is wash the bite with soap and water. You can apply an antibiotic cream and then cover your wound with a clean bandage. 

If the wound is minor, you can monitor it, but if it starts to feel warm, swollen, or painful, or you develop a fever you should seek medical attention. If the dog who bit you was behaving strangely, seek medical attention right away. 

If you have a deeper wound, you want to apply pressure with a dry, clean cloth to stop the bleeding and then get immediate medical attention.

Your health care provider will likely ask a set of questions, including whether or not you know the owner of the other dog and whether it’s up-to-date on all vaccinations. The health care provider may ask if the bite was unprovoked and any other health conditions you may have. 

If at all possible, if someone else’s dog bites you and the owner is there, you need to get their name and contact information. Then, you should be able to contact the dog’s veterinarian and ensure the dog is up-to-date on all vaccines. 

You should also contact the police and animal control and let them know a dog bit you so they can take steps to help avoid another similar situation. 

One of the crucial steps you should take is reaching out to a lawyer. If you provide information that can hurt your claim, the insurance company may use it against you and avoid paying damages. Lawyers have good negotiation skills and know how to deal with insurance companies. A proficient dog bite lawyer who has the skills to negotiate and assist in filing a claim can provide important legal advice and keep you away from saying things that can hurt your claim.


It’s very rare that a dog in the United States would have rabies, but if you don’t know the dog and its owner, your doctor may want you to get a rabies vaccine. Your doctor will also have to check and see if you are up-to-date on your tetanus shot.

When you’re bitten by a dog, particularly if you don’t know the owner, you may also be prescribed antibiotics, and your doctor will likely want to check back in with you in a few days. 

Reporting a Dog Bite

There are not only health issues to consider with a dog bite, but also legal issues.

Even if you have a very seemingly minor dog bite, you should take photos of the dog and then take photos of your wounds. 

You might also want to take photos of the owner and their vehicle and license plate. 

In the future, they may need to be contacted by animal control, the police, or in some cases an insurance company or lawyer. 

This was touched on, but you should likely call the police if a dog bites you, and you don’t know the owner. This is especially true if the owner is present and reacts in a hostile way towards you. 

If you don’t have serious injuries, you don’t have to call emergency services but can instead call the non-emergency police phone line. 

After you talk to the police, you should get the incident report number and keep it for your records. 

You should also contact animal control, and some states have laws that require health care providers to call animal control if there’s a dog bite. Animal control will start an investigation and determine any patterns of biting the dog may have or possible other dangerous habits. 

You should also notify your homeowner’s insurance company if you have one because they might be able to provide you with some assistance as far as how you could get coverage for lost wages or medical bills. 

If you know the person whose dog bit you, you might be hesitant to contact authorities, but it’s important because of your own health and also the potential the dog could hurt someone else. 

In some cases, you may also need to speak with a dog bite lawyer, and if so, you’ll want to have all of your photos, information from your police report, and all contact information from the dog’s owner that you have available. 

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