5 min read


Can Dog Bites Get Infected?



5 min read


Can Dog Bites Get Infected?


Chuck Barry is known for saying, "Don't let the same dog bite you twice." Better still, don't get a bite from a dog at all!  Dog bites can be a traumatic experience. 

First, there is the trauma of being bitten, whether provoked or not, it is stressful to have an animal bite you. Second, there is the physical pain and discomfort. Last, there is the risk of infection and the potential consequences of a serious infection. It's not the size of the dog that matters when it comes to the potential for a dog bite to turn into an infection. There is more to learn about bites to be prepared to protect yourself or your loved ones from an infection.


Signs a Dog is About to Bite

Many people feel that the dog bite came out of "nowhere". Sometimes it is hard to know if a dog is going to bite you. There are many situations in which a dog bite may occur. 

It may be that your family pet has been provoked by children hugging him. Perhaps you are in an open environment and you encounter an unfamiliar dog. It may be that the dog is aggressive and you wandered into his territory. Or the dog is a fear-biter. Often, a dog bite can happen so suddenly that people did not recognize the potential for the situation to turn into one in which there is a dog bite.

Dogs do have warning signs in their body language. You may see the dog staring at you with direct eye contact. The dog may be wagging their tail. A wagging tail does not always mean the dog is happy. It just means the dog is an excited state. Their ears are up. You may hear a rumbling growl. Another sign would be the if the dog is showing his teeth in what is called a "short mouth".

When dogs are aggressive, there are a number of indications that the animal may bite. The dog may become stiff and rigid with a focus on the target. You may hear the dog making a guttural bark. Some dogs will lunge at a person to attack. Some dogs will not only bite but shake once they have a hold on the person. When provoked, the dog may engage in a quick snap to stop the annoying behavior.

Body Language

Below are some signs to watch for that may indicate a dog is going to bite:

  • Growling
  • Wag Tail
  • Snapping
  • Ears Up
  • Exposed Teeth

Other Signs

These are some more signs that warn you of an impending dog bite:

  • Becoming Stiff
  • Exposing Teeth
  • Quickly Snapping
  • Hyperactivity

The History Behind Dog Bites


The U.S. Center for Disease Control or CDC estimates there are over 4.5 million dog bites each year. There are about 900,000 visits to emergency rooms because of dog bites in the United States. A dog bite is a reaction to something. There are many reasons a dog will bite. 

If the dog is in a stressful situation, he will bite to defend his territory or himself. A dog that is sick or injured will bite to send the message he wants to be left alone. The dog might nip as a part of playing, but a bite is still an injury. In most instances, the dog is a member of the family or knows the person he is biting. 

When children are involved in bites, it is usually because the child provoked the dog, even if doing something seemingly harmless while playing or attempting to hug the animal. The persons at greatest risk of a bite to the face are children and teens, living in a single parent home with a German Shepherd-type dog. 

The risk of getting bitten by a dog are increased if you bend over the dog, put your face near to the dog's face or gaze into the dog's face. The dog breeds that have been known to bite the most are listed: Chihuahua, Bulldog, Pitbull, German Shepherd, Australian Shepherd, Lhasa Apso, Jack Russell Terrier, Cocker Spaniel, Bull Terrier, Pekingese, and Papillon. That being said, any dog can bite.

The Science of Dog Bites


Eighty percent of dog bites do not lead to serious injuries. Infections often occur on the fingers and hands, where bites are most likely to happen - and it is harder for the body to fight infections on extremities. The infections that occur are usually bacterial. The bacteria is from the animal's mouth. There may also be bacteria exposures on the hands.

There are different kinds of bites. If the skin is not broken, the human is not at risk for infection. There is a low risk for infection with scrapes or scratches. Cuts or tears to the skin have a higher risk of infection. The highest risk of infection comes from puncture wounds. Symptoms of infection are pain, swelling, redness, and inflammation. There are other signs of infection that include: pus or fluid oozing from the wound, tenderness, loss of sensation around the bite, limited hand or finger use, red streaks near the bite, fever or chills, fatigue, breathing difficulties, or night sweats. 

The risk factors for bites are from not thoroughly washing the bite, an extremely deep wound, the bite causing a fracture or extensive damage, or a weakened immune system. If you are bitten, wash the area thoroughly and flush the wound. Bandage the area to control bleeding. Watch for signs of infection and seek medical assistance if indicated by the severity of the bite or signs of infection. 

Vaccinations prevent complications. It is important to find out if the animal is current with their rabies vaccinations. If the animal was not vaccinated or this information is unknown, the person may have to undergo rabies treatment to prevent the possibility of a rabies infection.

The other concern with a dog bite is tetanus. There is a bacterial form of tetanus that can occur with a bite. The signs of tetanus include: difficulty swallowing, a stiff jaw, a stiff neck,  stiffness in the stomach muscles and painful body spasms. 

With the right precautions, you can prevent a dog bite by respecting the animal's area and teaching others how to interact with the dog. You can also keep any wounds clean to prevent infection. In case you are wondering, a human bite is worse than a dog bite because there is not only the risk of bacterial infection but the spread of viruses as well.

Training Family Members How to Avoid Dog Bites


There are appropriate ways to approach dogs to reduce the likelihood of getting a bite. It is very important for dog owners to teach children how to act around dogs and to advise friends and visitors on appropriate behavior for greeting your pet. 

Do not run up to the dog and stick your hand out as if he is a toy. Instead, respect the dog's space. Stand at a distance and even look away so that the dog can become familiar with your presence and scent. 

Do not run up to dogs. Instead walk slowly. Always ask the pet owner if you have permission to approach their pet. It is the owner's responsibility to know if the dog will be tolerant of petting from a stranger. Do not approach the dog face to face. That is aggression to them. Instead, look to the side and approach the animal to the side. Stay at a safe distance and let the dog come to you. 

If the dog shows any signs of biting, do not try to pet the dog. Do not hug or enthusiastically pat on the dog. If it seems the dog is of temperament to be petted, make the pats soft and very brief.

Have questions or concerns about your pet?

Chat with a veterinary professional in the Wag! app 24/7.

Get Vet Chat

Safety Tips to Avoid Dog Bites

  1. Pick a dog with a good temperament, especially if you have children.
  2. Teach children how to approach and interact with the dog.
  3. Start as a puppy to socialize your puppy to be a part of the family pack and show self-control.
  4. Do not leave children alone with the dog.
  5. Avoid face to face interactions with the dog.
  6. Do not bother a dog who is eating or feeding puppies.
  7. Allow the dog to approach you.

Written by a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lover Pat Drake

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 02/20/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
Need to upgrade your pet's leash?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews


© 2024 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2024 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.