What Happens When You’re Bitten by a Dog

I got bit by a dog. 

I had gone to a home to make contact with a family. I saw no evidence of a dog, so walked up to the door. Suddenly a dog on a chain came out of nowhere. He jumped up on me, and I threw up my hands in a defensive move that I now believe resulted in accidental contact with one of the dog’s teeth. I also have a long bruise down my right leg where he jumped up on me. The dog backed me up to my car, and barked at me, but didn’t attempt to bite me. Once in my car I realized I’d sustained a puncture wound on the top of my left hand. 

Accident though it may have been, it was still a puncture wound sustained from contact with a dog’s teeth- a dog about which I knew nothing.

The day of the injury.
The day of the injury.

I was sent to a clinic affiliated with our workers comp program. Staff filled out lots of paperwork while my hand soaked. One of the forms completed reported the bite to the local health department. The doc wrote a scrip for an antibiotic and told me to come back in 4 days.

The next day, my hand began to swell. Where the day before I was able to somewhat use my hand, by Monday it was basically useless. I couldn’t write or type with that hand (I’m left-handed), and lifting was not possible either.

The local Health Department called me, and advised that local animal control officials would make contact with the dog’s owner to verify the dog’s rabies vaccinations are up-to-date. Thankfully, they were.

Here's what my hand looked like Monday.
Here’s what my hand looked like Monday.

My hand continued to swell, so Tuesday morning I returned to the clinic. I sat in the waiting area for almost 2 hours, listening to clinic staff talk about how they really didn’t feel like being at work and the stories of a handful of men and women about to head overseas to work for military contractors. This time the doctor gave me antibiotic and steroid shots, then told me I had to go to the Health Department immediately to be evaluated for possible rabies.

Tuesday morning
Tuesday morning

Except that’s not proper protocol in the state of Florida. The Health Department said nope, we don’t work that way. If you’re bitten by an animal, the animal is to be quarantined for 10 days to evaluate for rabies. If the animal is owned, quarantine can consist of being watched at home. If a stray, the animal could be quarantined at the local animal control. After 10 days, if the biter is not sick, the bite victim is good to go.

The staffer at the Health Department was, however, concerned that the medical staff had not administered a tetanus booster, and insisted I go back to the clinic immediately for a tetanus shot. Seems if your last tetanus booster was over 5 years ago, and you’re bitten by a dog, the Florida Dept of Health recommends a booster. So back to spend another hour in the lobby of the clinic. I spent over 4 hours Tuesday dealing with this stuff.

Yet despite my efforts the day before, by Wednesday my hand was still swollen. At this point I decided a visit to my doctor was in order.  He recommended a different type of antibiotic, and wrote me a prescription.

Here's my hand today. The swelling has finally dissipated.
Here’s my hand today. The swelling has finally dissipated.

Today it’s been 5 days out. The swelling has lessened. Now my hand is very sore, which makes sense. The tooth bruised a tendon in my hand, and when I use my hand, I can feel it.

Seems like a lot of nonsense for one small puncture wound, doesn’t it? And yet, dog bites are nothing to sneeze about. So here’s the short form of what I learned about dog bites:

You need to obtain medical care. Perhaps it’s a small puncture like mine was, but it still needs to be checked out.

Many areas require an immediate call to animal control or law enforcement. Some areas also require the local health department be notified. Your best bet is to call your local non-emergency number for the police and report the dog bite. Local officials can verify the animal is up-to-date on rabies vaccinations, and save you possibly having to endure rabies shots.

It’s not uncommon for bite injuries to become infected, so even if you’re taking antibiotics, keep an eye on the wound, and follow-up with your doctor if you see signs of infection.

Dog bites can lead to tetanus, so if you’ve not had a tetanus shot within the last 5 years, get a booster.

If an off-leash dog comes after your leashed dog, let go of the leash and let them have at it. Best you be available to care for your injured dog, not tied up doing all this I’ve had to endure.

So, there you have it. One encounter with a dog led to one small puncture wound, two days missed work, three shots, five clinic visits (and counting), two prescriptions for antibiotics, and no use of my dominant hand for several days.

55 thoughts on “What Happens When You’re Bitten by a Dog

  1. Presumably there was no signage warning of the dog? I hope the owners are severely penalized because what if, instead of you, it had been a small child……….. say selling Girl Guide cookies? I too have been bitten and while that was 50+ years ago, I still remember it well.

      1. It probably was unintentional but you should not minimize it on that basis. If it was your young child that was “not intentionally” bitten, would you be so understanding? When a dog bites it is serious. It may be accidental; may be due to poor training; may be due to a history of abuse ………. none of which are the dog’s fault, but no explanation can make it better. Either that dog needs lots of signage warning of the possibility, or it should be muzzled. To do anything less is risking another unintentional bite…. which is quite simply irresponsible.

      2. That’s true. Animal control did their job though and made contact with the family. Let’s hope nothing like this happens again.

  2. Things are done differently here in the Northeast. Massachusetts is a one bite state. Dog bites somebody, he’s put down – and that’s that. In fact, I’ve known people who’ve lost animals even in accidental bite cases. It’s really sad – and scary. I say scary, because Jack… well, you know all about Jack. So if a little kid runs up to Jack, yelling “doggie! doggie!” and Jack freaks, and bites him – off he goes to that little room. And there’s nothing we can do about it.

    On the other hand (sorry, no pun intended 😉 ) however – especially considering why you were on the property in the first place… your job and all – I think the police should step in. Accident or no, you were at least attacked – and possibly bitten – by a dog, on a property with no signage, and owned by an individual who requires some form of state intervention. Hence your presence there. Well, all I’m saying is I think we’re getting into felony territory. I’m no lawyer, but it seems to me… that would be the case.

    1. The law states that all dog bites are reported. Now we all know that doesn’t always happen. But they don’t put dogs down just like that, though the animal control officer did ask me what happened and if I felt a citation was in order.

    2. David, Massachusetts is NOT a one bite state. That means the dog gets one “free” bite without consequences if the dog is not known to be a biter. In Mass the owner of the dog is responsible for damages as a result of any dog bite. Few dogs who bite are put down and certainly not for the first time unless you’re talking a mauling.

      I represented someone whose dog bit and the dog was not put down. She had to provide records of rabies shots and put the dog in home quarantine but no one killed the dog. The owner was liable for damages, but the dog is still alive and well.

      All dogs who bite in Massachusetts are not euthanized. There may be a local ordinance regarding viscous dogs, but not a state law on it.

      Jack is a special case in terms of being dangerous. You know he bites so there’s higher level of care required based on your knowledge that he is fear aggressive and a biter. I am assuming that in public he is muzzled and under control at all times.

      Further, having a dog on a chain in the yard of a house is not felony territory. This is something all protective service workers, mailmen, meter readers, etc. have to deal with day in and day out. Just because we get a report doesn’t mean it’s VALID. Not only that, there are issues of confidentiality on point that Rumpy’s Mom has to contend with.

      I have been bitten a couple of times (not badly) by startled dogs. Always assume there is a dog in the yard, it is running free or out of sight, and that you may not be a welcome visitor. I do not have signage saying I’ve got a dog. Most people do not.

      Now… Rumpy’s Mom – sorry you got bitten. Yes, somethings bites get infected. Hope you are well soon. Bummer that it was your dominant hand. 😦

    1. You wanna know the worst in all of this? I couldn’t write! All this time at home and I can type, but only one-handed, and that got real old real fast. Ugh!

  3. I hope it heals now without trouble… send you a big hug. I’m so sorry that it happened to you…I remember the procedere Mark had to bear last year as he and Easy were attacked…. he couldn’t remember his last tetanus shot and instead o give him one, what’s ~ euro 2.75, they did a test for eur 30 to find out that he needs no shot. as he had to see another doc after a week , he asked if he got a shot… he said no,the vaccine protection still works… and this doctor gave him a shot anyway…the drama with the health insurance was priceless and after 87 hours of wasted time, we paid for the whole trash :o(

    1. Well that is another issue, isn’t it? The paying for care. As this was a work-related injury, my employer was responsible for medical costs. But I wanted MY doctor, who I trust, to look at my hand, and I had to pay for that privilege.

      1. Oh, oouchie! Your hand ran into a running dog tooth – and in a spot with little padding. Even as aware and considerate of dogs as you are, it happens. What a circus getting treated. Glad you are better. Here any medical staff treating dog bites that break skin/draw blood must be reported by that staff. (Booster shots are good!…but ugh, another oouchie due to the first ouchie)
        (As you know, cat bites and scratches are just as bad and get infected quickly)
        And I would have gone to my personal doc, too. Just more confidence in that. You have to guard your own health not someone who may be interested in keeping costs down, following “normal procedures” and giving it “a little time to see if what happens and see if next level of treatment is necessary…..”
        As it is work related situation, best let authorities deal with owners. Seems like there should be a record with animal control of the incident in case something happens again.
        Just a reminder of all dog and cat owners: guard your animal and protect them from getting surprised and behaving badly. Guard the public from your animal to protect your pet.
        Rumpy, we can’t be there but please give lots of snuggles and share a soft blanket with Jen for us. HUGS!!!!

  4. I’ve dealt with my fair share of these in the ER. A tetanus booster is due every ten year unless there’s a dirty wound, eg: dog bit, then it’s five year booster. The fact that a lot of dog bites are puncture wounds is particularly of concern as the small opening tends to close encasing bacterial inside of the wound as opposed to a gaping or open rip wound whereby bacteria has an exit place to ooze. Encased bacteria can cause this type of swelling infection, cellulitis, which is left untreated can turn to a blood poison and infect vital organs. The same is pertinent with cat bites or other puncture wound type injuries that are dirty.

    This is a very important post which demonstrates (with your photos and descriptions) how serious this is. I don’t like to stick my medical two cents into other’s posts but took the liberty here to add this due to the importance because I’ve heard too many times, it’s just a dog bite, can’t be that serious. And, if by any chance the dog had rabies (rare) that’s a whole other situation.

    Thanks for this one and indulging me. Happy Easter weekend and glad you’re healing well. Take care.

    1. And a very Bunny Day to you too! Thanks for that! In my case, I probably wouldn’t have gone to a clinic if I’d known the dog, and that’s not a good thing to do.

  5. I have been there myself. I broke up a fight between two of my females dobes (I am a foster to the Doberman Rescue group of OK). I got bit and went to my doctor, got the shot, drugs. It is rough when it comes to your hand being injured.

    1. And breaking up fights means you’re very likely to sustain an injury to a hand. After this experience, I’m inclined to not intervene. I struggled to do so many things I take for granted. Even cleaning the litter box was a major problem, and we all know that June Buggie does not tolerate his litter box not being scooped.

  6. Oh no….I’m very sorry about your left hand….it really looks painful…….I haven’t been bitten by a dog yet in my life but my father was bitten…..on his let leg by Borzoi when he tried to stop the fight between the Borzoi and Kevin…..his wound was like yours…..yes, he got a shot for tetanus just in case.
    I’ll keep those things about dog bites in mind….I hope your wound will be gone soon, Jen. Hugs

    1. It is, but it happens. We hear about the bad bites that result in serious injury. This was a minor bite but it caused a lot of grief…. for me, anyway.

      1. I have to admit I am weary of dogs I do not know , as much as I love animals they need respect. I am concerned though , what did the owners have to say and did they apologize at all.

  7. Yikes! I’ve been pretty lucky, and the only dogs that have bitten me were my own (got between her and another having a punch up) and a bitch at the dog kennels where I temped as a kennel maid (she bit me on the ear when I picked her up on instructions of the breeder and it was ages before it stopped bleeding). Both incidents had me at the surgery for a tetanus jab, and luckily no side effects.
    Just goes to show how careful you have to be. Hope you are more comfortable now.

  8. Good to hear you’re nearly healed up,I just thought I would let you know,you shared this under a different title on for the love of dog,of which I am a owner,somebody left a not so nice comment on it so I deleted the post the link came up as page not found any way ,but I deleted the post because of the comment,I didn’t want you to think the deletion was directed at you,xx Rachel

  9. Yikes! I was waiting to read about the tetanus shot. Puncture wound = tetanus shot, with or without a dog. I hope you’re better soon, and that the 10 days go by without any surprises!

  10. Ouch! Cat bites are even worse. I’ve been bitten by a cat more times than I want to remember…once requiring me to see a hand specialist. Fortunately, I always recovered without any real serious medical attention needed. I have a friend who required a hospital stay with IVs when she was bitten by a cat.

    Hope you heal quickly.

    Island Cat Mom

  11. The doctor at the clinic is incompetent. My hand was so swollen I couldn’t bend my fingers. When I went to one of the walk-in clinic, after the doctor asked me why I waited so long to come, and then the first thing he did was to give me a tetanus shot. Then he sent me to the ER. I was admitted because they felt I pills wouldn’t enough. I spent four days in NY Presbyterian on antibiotic IV.

    1. Oh my! I’m glad you’re OK. As for me, I find the reality of things is that one must be prepared to advocate for oneself at all times.

  12. Infection after a dog bite is rather normal. When it’s a small puncture it is not always a problem but I’ve seen a dog bite on a childs arm once, when I was a child myself. We were both in hospital and that dog bite of that girl didn’t want to heal. They couldn’t suture it for whatever reason. Okay, that happened many years ago, but any bite leaves a lot of germs in a wound. Human bite wouldn’t be much better.

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