Dogs don’t visit the dentist on the regular and, as a result, often contain harmful bacteria in their mouths. If a dog bites you and it breaks the skin, the bacteria can get into your body, possibly causing an infection.
That’s why our plastic and cosmetic surgeon Elliott H. Rose, MD, at the Aesthetic Surgery Center in New York City, strongly advises you to get a tetanus shot following a dog bite.
Here are other important steps to take if you suffer a serious dog bite and how we can help, especially if you have a bite to a highly visible area like the face, hands, or neck.
What should I do if I’m bitten by a dog?
To minimize the chance that you experience an infection following a dog bite, wash the wound as soon as possible.
If the wound is minor, use soap and warm water. Run the affected area under lukewarm water to flush out any bacteria. Apply antibiotic cream and wrap the bite with a bandage.
For more serious wounds, apply pressure with gauze or a clean, dry cloth to stop any bleeding.
You should also seek medical attention immediately and no later than 8 hours after the incident.
Washing the wound does remove some bacteria from the body and can help prevent infection, but it’s not a guarantee against complications. A tetanus shot gives you greater protection against serious infection.
Most dog bite wounds are left open to heal, but if you have one in a sensitive area like your lips or face, you may benefit from stitches. Dr. Rose carefully reconstructs any serious damage done by a dog bite to restore a natural appearance.
What if I’m not due for a tetanus shot?
A tetanus vaccination is good for 10 years. But, if you’re not sure yours is up to date or if your dog bite wound was particularly dirty, it’s a good idea to get a booster right after your bite. We often recommend you get one if it’s been more than five years since your last shot, too.
Rabies is another concern. If you don’t know the dog’s history of rabies vaccination, you should get a rabies vaccine to protect yourself from the possibility of rabies.
What are the symptoms of tetanus?
A bite from a dog increases the risk that tetanus bacteria can enter your body. If you don’t get a vaccination and you develop tetanus, symptoms include:
- Muscle spasms, especially in the stomach
- Difficulty swallowing
- Cramping in the jaw
- Muscle stiffness
These symptoms mean you should seek immediate medical attention. Tetanus can be treated with antibiotics and the vaccine. It’s better to get the injection right after your dog bite to prevent the onset of the infection.
How do I know if I have an infection?
Getting proper care for a dog bite wound helps prevent infection. If you notice any of the following, however, you may need antibiotics to prevent complications:
- Swelling and redness around the wound
- Difficulty moving the affected area
- Warmth around the site
- Pain that lasts longer than 24 hours or intensifies
- Drainage from the area of the bite
Infections that go untreated can spread to other areas of the body and cause fever, shaking, and night sweats.
Dr. Rose treats complex dog bite injuries and reconstructs any physical damage to restore as natural of an appearance as possible. Contact The Aesthetic Surgery Center to learn more. Call our office or use this website to reach out.