- Dog bites may cause injury and septic wounds, and carry the risk of transmitting tetanus and rabies.
- Where the bite barely breaks the skin, it can be treated as a minor wound with basic home care.
- Bites that are deep or cause tearing, or that become infected, need to be seen by a doctor.
- Most bites can be prevented - particularly by teaching children not to bother dogs.
Dogs are the most likely pets to cause animal bites. Most cases involve children. Apart from causing injury and septic wounds, dog bites may transmit tetanus and, in rare cases, rabies.
First aid for dog bites
If the bite barely breaks the skin, treat it as a minor wound. Wash the bite thoroughly with soap and running water. Apply antibiotic cream and a loose sterile bandage.
See a doctor without delay if:
* The bite creates a deep puncture wound or the skin is badly torn. Allow for some bleeding to cleanse the wound.
* The bite is on the face, hand, foot or neck, or over a joint.
* The person bitten has not had a tetanus injection within the past five years.
* There are signs of infection.
* You suspect the dog may be rabid, or definite proof cannot be found of current vaccination. Even then, the dog should be observed for the following 10 days to see if it develops rabies symptoms. If the dog is stray or there is no documented proof of vaccination, contact the local health department. The animal should be assumed as being positive for rabies and the person bitten should start receiving treatment for rabies. If the animal is caught, it should be euthanised to test for rabies. Only if the test is negative, can treatment be stopped.
Prevention of dog bites
* Most dog bites can be prevented. Teach children not to disturb dogs while they are eating, sleeping or caring for puppies. Never leave small children alone with a dog.
* Have your dog neutered.
* If a dog approaches, stay calm. Teach your children to stand still - "like a tree". Never pet a dog without letting it sniff you first.
* If a dog threatens to attack, stay calm, talk in a firm voice and avoid eye contact. Don't scream. Back away slowly and don't turn and run - a dog will always outrun you.
* If a dog attacks, curl up into a ball to protect your face, neck and head.
Rabies is a fatal viral infection carried in the saliva of warm-blooded animals; the transfer to humans is usually from a rabid dog.
Symptoms in an infected animal include unusual behaviour, aggressiveness, excessive drooling and paralysis.
Symptoms in humans appear about 20 - 60 days after being bitten by a rabid animal. Deep or multiple bites, particularly to the head and neck, result in symptoms appearing sooner. An early symptom is tingling, pain or intense itchiness at the bite site, even when the wound has healed. Other early symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and behavioural changes.
If a person has been bitten by a rabid animal, the disease can be prevented by an injection of rabies immune globulin and a course of vaccinations. This must preferably be given within 48 hours to be effective.
Dogs should be vaccinated against rabies every three years.