Infections from Dog Bite Wounds

You have been bitten by a dog. Now what?

Infections from Dog Bite Wounds

You may need to go to the hospital, depending on the seriousness of the bite. It can range from a simple scratch to life-threatening injuries. After a dog bite, you should immediately contact your family doctor or visit the hospital emergency room. On top of making sure you are medically stable, doctors have to figure out how to treat the wounds best for healing and cosmetics but another potentially lethal reason for infections.

Get To a Safe Place and Check Wounds

Of course, the first thing you need to do if bitten or attacked by a dog is get to a safe place. Assess the seriousness of the bite. If the bite is serious, seek immediate medical attention, particularly if there are signs of exposed bone or muscle, profuse bleeding, loss of function, or severe pain. Otherwise, apply pressure to bleeding areas until it has stopped.

As soon as possible, wash the wound with soap and water. Apply antibiotic cream and cover with a clean bandage. Lacerations may need stitches, but seeping will help drain the wound, decreasing the potential for infection. If the bite is deep and you have not had a tetanus shot, you will need to get one. And be very aware of signs of infection. It is imperative to seek medical attention if any signs of infection appear. Your life may depend on it. Illnesses that suppress the immune system and other health conditions may pose an increased risk for infection.

Signs of Infection

The Dog Bite Treatment article on dogsaholic.com thoroughly explains infections from dog bites, “Usually, in the first 24 hours after being bitten, one’s wound should be swollen, red and painful, but it should not stay like that … If the symptoms worsen in time, it is almost clear that the wound got infected. These infections are common because pathogens are injected into one’s skin when the dog’s teeth penetrate it. There is almost no way for the bacteria to get out unless the wound bleeds excessively. Moreover, if the dog’s fangs penetrated one’s superficial fascia, they might develop septic arthritis and osteomyelitis, which are bone infections.”

Here are the possible symptoms of infection:

  • Swelling that occurs immediately after the bite
  • The wound gets bigger instead of smaller
  • Wound becomes redder
  • Puss appears, which can be white, green, or pink.
  • The wound starts smelling funny
  • Pain increases over time.
  • Fever, chills, or acute pain occur
  • The wound does not heal properly, although you apply ointments.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an average of 18% of dog bites become infected. They list some of the diseases you should be familiar with:


Rabies is one of the most serious diseases people can get from dog bites. Although rabies from a dog in the United States is rare, rabies is a disease that you should be aware of. Rabies is a virus that affects the brain and is almost always fatal. The most common way the rabies virus is spread is through the bite and saliva of an infected animal. The disease can be prevented by vaccinating dogs. People exposed to a dog or any animal that could have rabies should receive treatment immediately to prevent rabies.


Capnocytophaga spp. are bacteria that live in the mouths of humans, dogs, and cats. These bacteria do not make dogs or cats sick. Rarely, Capnocytophaga spp. It can spread to humans through bites, scratches, or close contact with a dog or cat and cause illness. Most people who have contact with dogs or cats do not become sick. People with a weakened immune system are at greater risk of becoming sick.


Pasteurella is a type of bacteria seen in over 50% of infected dog bite wounds. Pasteurella commonly causes a painful, red infection at the bite site but can cause more serious disease in people with a weak immune system. Often these signs are accompanied by swollen glands, swelling in the joints, and difficulty moving.


MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is a Staph infection resistant to a certain group of antibiotics. Dogs and other animals can carry MRSA without showing any symptoms, but the bacteria can cause skin, lung, and urinary tract infections in people. In some people, MRSA can spread to the bloodstream or lungs and cause life-threatening infections.


Tetanus is a toxin produced by a type of bacteria called Clostridium tetani. This toxin causes rigid paralysis in people and could be a problem in deep bite wounds. (CDC)


Streptococcus and other Staphylococcus bacteria can also be the culprit in a dog bite infection. In most bites that develop an infection, the guilty bacteria come from the dog’s oral flora. However, the rest of the time, the bacteria to blame come from the skin of the bite victim. It is also possible for the bacteria to come from the environment at the time of the bite. Although not common, rare bacteria can be present, and infections can progress to other problems such as endocarditis (an infection of the inner lining of your heart) or you can contract Necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating bacteria).

Watch for Delayed Symptoms

A small family dog bit Robin Sullins of Austin, Texas, in December 2012. The bite was not serious, and she did not seek medical attention. Two days later, she had a fever and vomiting. Then her organs started shutting down and sepsis set in. She had legs below the knees and most of her fingers amputated. The hospital determined it was Capnocytophaga, found in the mouths of nearly a third of all healthy cats and dogs, but it is not normally this dangerous in a healthy person. Somehow the bacteria entered her bloodstream, which caused sepsis, which then caused the blood vessels in her legs and hands to shut down and clot.

Even if the skin is not broken, there is still damage to muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and bones. A dog’s teeth are designed for ripping, tearing, and crushing, and there can be damaged even if the skin is not torn. There was a bite force test by Dr. Brady Barr of National Geographic. He tested the bite pressure of several animals. In his test were three dogs. The Rottweiler had the highest at 328 pounds of pressure. The Pit Bull he tested had 235 pounds, just behind the German Shepard at 238 pounds. The wolf is 406 pounds, while lions and sharks are around 600. The Nile alligator is the highest at just under 2500 pounds of pressure. Another study was done by Dr. Ellis that was published in the Journal of Anatomy in 2009. She was able to show that the size of the animal and the shape of its jaw predicted bite strength. She tested the bite force of the dog breed with the largest head and widest mouth, the Mastiff. The bite force of the Mastiff is 552 pounds of pressure.

What To Do If You’ve Been Bitten By a Dog

There are other things you should do if bit by a dog. Do you know the dog that bit you? If so, you can find out from the dog’s owner is up to date on its rabies vaccine. You should get the owner’s name and address, the name of the Veterinarian, and the dog’s vaccine license number. If you do not know the dog or the dog doesn’t have a current rabies license, you might need rabies treatment. Because rabies is fatal but preventable, Ohio has a law that any person bitten by a mammal must make a bite report to the Ohio Department of Health within 24 hours of the bite. The Ohio Department of Health also suggests seeking medical attention for any bite.

Every year, about 800,000 Americans receive medical treatment for dog bites. More than half of them are children. Understand that a dog bite is a reaction to a stressful situation. Yes, there are cases when a dog has been bitten with no warning signs, but there were warning signs in most cases. It’s just that it can be easy to miss a dog’s warning signs, even more so if there are children around or other distractions. It can be a matter of seconds or even milliseconds for a dog to feel stressed or threatened. A growl is a warning sign. Correcting your dog for growling can make your dog skip the warning next time. It is one of the ways they tell us they are stressed. Sometimes they need a little time to calm down after a stressful situation, just like us.

A common example is children (and some adults) running over to someone’s dog and sticking their hands in the dog’s face without asking permission, and the dog growls. The dog’s owner corrects the dog for growling. Everything in this situation increases the chance of a bite. The adult should know that you (and your children) should never run up to an unfamiliar dog. But if it does happen, the dog owner should let the adult know that running up to the dog scared the dog and should back away. And a wagging tail does not always mean a dog is happy! The dog would be blamed if someone was a bit, but the dog clearly warns it is uncomfortable and wants the situation to change. If the dog owner and other adults are in a conversation and the child pets the dog and the dog growls, the owner may completely miss the warning. And if the child wasn’t taught what not to do around a new dog, they could easily get bit. Therefore, increasing their risk for that bite wound to become infected.

The numbers are scary, but there is something that can help, education. Reducing the number of dog bites is achievable. Having a dog in the home can offer companionship, reduce stress, and increase exercise. Teaching everyone in the family awareness of canine behaviors and interactions decreases bite risks.

Contact Us for Help

If your spouse, child, or other loved one has been bitten, attacked, and bitten by a dog, please get in touch with one of our dog bite lawyers for a free and private consultation to get your questions answered and learn what legal options you have to take action. A free consultation with our dog bite lawyers is just that – free. There is no cost, and there is no obligation to hire our law firm.

You can reach us at any time, including weekends, evenings, and holidays by calling 888.534.4850