Dog Bites In Children: How To Prevent Them And What To Do After A Bite

Image: Shutterstock


Dog bites in children are common because they may try to get close with the animal and do not know how to keep themselves away from an aggressive or confused dog.

You need to train your child on how to be careful while dealing with dogs and learn what to do if a child is bitten by a dog. MomJunction helps you with that. Read on.

What To Do After A Dog Bite?

First aid for dog bites

In younger children, dogs mostly attack their legs, which are easily reachable. Give first aid based on how severe the wound is:

  1. Minor wounds: Wash the wound carefully with water and soap. Apply some antibiotic cream to avoid any infection (1).
  1. Deep wounds: If the dog has bitten on the skin, causing perforation and loss of blood, apply pressure with a clean, dry cloth to stop the bleeding. Visit a doctor immediately.

It is best to take your child to a doctor as soon as possible after a dog bite, minor or otherwise.

Once the first aid is done, check for the following information to help treat the child.

  • If you know the owner of the dog, ask them if the dog has been given important vaccinations, including one for rabies.
  • Know if the dog was provoked to bite, or the action was unprovoked.
  • Give first aid to your child before taking them to a doctor.

When Should You Visit The Doctor?

See the doctor if:

  • Your child has redness, swelling, pain, or irritation.
  • You don’t know if the dog has infections or if it is vaccinated.
  • The wound is in your child’s face or neck.
  • The wound looks deep.
  • The skin is punctured, posing a danger of bacterial infection.
  • You are unable to stop bleeding after applying pressure for about ten minutes.

The doctor will ask you questions about the dog before they begin treatment.

What Is The Treatment For Dog Bites?

The treatment will most likely include the below steps:

  • Sponge the area to clean away any dust or dirt.
  • Wash the cavity copiously with clean water, preferably running water from a tap.
  • Culture wounds if they are infected.
  • Remove devitalized tissue.
  • Keep the punctured wounds open.
  • Your doctor might prescribe antibiotics if there is a chance of infection.
  • The doctor might also advise review of the wound within 24-48 hours to look for the signs of infection.
  • Injuries on the hands and feet are managed in consultation with a surgeon (2).

The doctor will also decide whether to give tetanus injection and/ or and/or rabies immunoglobulin to your child.

So, why do dogs bite? And can you prevent it?

Why Do Dogs Bite?

Dogs usually bite as a reaction to something (3):

  • If they are infected with rabies, they might bite without reason
  • If they find themselves in a stressful situation
  • To defend themselves
  • If they are scared, startled, or feel threatened
  • To protect something, which is important to them, like puppies, food, or a toy
  • When they are sick and want to be left alone
  • If they are overly excited while playing

Therefore, teach your child to understand the mood of the dog before going near or playing with a dog. Also, you need to take some other measures to prevent dog bites.

What To Do If The Family Dog Bites?

Follow the procedure mentioned in the treatment section. In addition to that, analyze the reasons as to why the dog has bitten the child. Also, observe the dog for ten days for any symptoms of rabies.

When an unprovoked dog bites,

  • The dog must have bitten unintentionally while playing with the kid. It may not be doing it again.
  • Do not try to discipline your dog long after the incident because it cannot associate getting disciplined to something it has done in the past.
  • If your dog remembers biting you, it may show signs of submission like bringing ears, tail, and head down.
  • Practice no talk, no-touch, and no eye contact for a while and stay calm.

When the dog bites intentionally,

  • If your dog is nipping without any apparent reason, you should consult a veterinarian as it may be due to some pain or hidden injury.
  • If there are no medical causes, then look for reasons that are agitating the dog.
  • Make sure it is not a reaction to some irritation caused by your child.
  • Work with your dog and a professional trainer, if needed, to eliminate aggression by establishing rules, boundaries, and limitations for the dog.
  • While doing this, keep your child away from the dog.

How To Prevent Dog Bites?

Here are some ways that might help in preventing dog bites.

  1. Ask your child to avoid approaching or touching an unfamiliar pet dog or a dog wandering on the street.
  1. If it is a pet dog and the dog owner is with the animal, always ask them before you pat or touch the dog, even if it is familiar.
  1. Tell your child to quietly and confidently walk away if met with an aggressive dog. Ask them to avoid making eye contact with the dog.
  1. If a dog is after the child, then they should stand still and then take a defensive position.
  1. If attacked by a dog, the child should cover their head and neck with the arms and curl into a ball.
  1. Tell your kid not to yell, run, or hit the dog.
  1. Help children understand the dog’s behavior. Make them realize that dogs, too, have likes and dislikes, just like they do.
  1. When a dog is resting in its crate, it shouldn’t be bothered.
  1. Keep your pet dog around your family. Isolating the dog may encourage bad temperament in it.
  1. So not tie the dog always, as that can make the dog uncomfortable and eventually aggressive. Let it be free, but train it to listen to you.
  1. The child should not force the dog to play and let it go if it is not interested.
  1. Tell the child never to tease dogs or pull its ears and tail.
  1. Report stray dogs that are aggressive or problematic, as they could be ill and need medical assistance, and could be dangerous to other dogs and humans if left untreated.
  1. Don’t handover pet responsibilities to children too early in their life or immediately after you bring the animal into your family. Initiate them slowly and supervise the activities.
  1. Help the child read the dogs’ body language:
    • If the dog yawns, puts ears back, or raises a paw, it means the dog is worried about something.
    • When a dog places its tail under its belly or between the legs, lies down with a leg up or stares at you with a stiffened body, it must be feeling threatened.
    • And if the dog growls or snaps, it is in a bad mood and wants to be left alone.

When you are teaching children about dog bite prevention and how to be safe, discuss animals and the need to treat them with respect and love. If you are getting a pet home, put some dos and don’ts in place, and be mindful of how young children in the family interact with it.

In spite of all your preventive measures, you may not be able to stop a vagarious dog from biting the child.

Vaccinations To Prevent Infection From Dog Bites

A dog bite can be colonized with bacteria from the animal’s mouth. So, your doctor may recommend prophylactic therapy for three to five days, which would be initiated within 12-24 hours of the injury. Here are a few injections that your child may need.

Tetanus Shot After A Dog Bite

A tetanus shot is usually not given for dog bites, unless the wound seems to be contaminated with soil, and when the child’s vaccination is incomplete.

The tetanus infection is caused by Clostridium Tetani bacteria, which is mostly found in soil. It results in stiffness of the jaw, neck or abdominal muscles, and painful body spasms. It is a rare but harmful disease. So, if the dog bite is deep and appears contaminated, the doctor would examine your child’s vaccination history and treat accordingly.

One can prevent tetanus by taking tetanus shots. Your child might need a tetanus shot if:

  • They have never taken the primary vaccination.
  • When the child has not been vaccinated within ten years (4).

Rabies Shot After A Dog Bite

The chances of rabies infection might be high after a dog’s bite, if the dog has not been vaccinated or if its vaccination history is unknown. During such situations, your doctor might prescribe a series of rabies injections taken on specific days over a period.

Rabies is a zoonotic disease, transmitted to humans from animals. Domestic dogs are the most common carriers of the rabies virus.

The disease is almost always fatal in humans. It begins with no symptoms but gradually causes fatigue, headache, pain, and irritability. It then leads to severe symptoms such as seizures, hallucinations, and paralysis (5).

When To Get a Rabies Injection?

A preventive rabies vaccine is given to those who are likely to be exposed to the disease, and your child may not fall into this category unless you are traveling to an international destination.

A post-exposure rabies vaccine is given if:

  • The child has not received the injection previously.
  • The doctor finds it necessary to give it.
  • You do not know anything about the dog that bit the child (here, too, the doctor will examine the wound before giving the injection).

The post-exposure vaccine has four doses — one dose given immediately after the bite, and the remaining on the third, seventh, and 14th days. In some cases, it could be five doses, administered on days 0, 3, 7, 14, and 28 (6).

A rabies immunoglobulin shot is also given along with the first dose (7).

Dog bites can cause both physical and emotional damage. The emotional damage caused by a dog bite can last for a lifetime, depending on the severity of the bite and shock.

Make sure that the child is not having an infection or any other problem while the physical injury is healing. At the same time, help them come out of mental trauma by talking to them and providing them solace.

Do you have something to say on dog bites? Share your experience with us in the comment box below.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Dog, cat and bat bites; HealthDirect
2. Marina Morgan; Dog bites; The British Medical Journal
3. Dog bite prevention; American Veterinary Medical Association
4. H. Cody Meissner; How should dog bites be managed to reduce risk of infection?; AAP News and Journals
5. Rabies; World Health Organization
6. WHO Guide for Rabies Pre and Post Exposure Prophylaxis in Humans; WHO
7. Rabies VIS; Vaccine Information Statements; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Recommended Articles:

The following two tabs change content below.

Dr. Anuradha Bansal

Dr. Anuradha Bansal is a pediatrician and neonatologist working as assistant professor in the Department of Paediatrics at PIMS Jalandhar. She has done her MBBS and MD Pediatrics at GMCH, Chandigarh. Thereafter, she polished her skills as senior resident at MAMC, Delhi. She has also done IAP Fellowship in Neonatology at GMCH, Chandigarh and obtained the membership of the prestigious... more

Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate the latest advancements in the field of dentistry into her practice. Dr. Shah's deep interest in the well-being of babies and children... more