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Dog bites: What to do if it happens to you

Emergency rooms across the country treat more than 1,000 dog bite victims a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most bites are preventable. But a lot aren't. So what should you do if you're a victim, or if your dog bites someone?

"The No. 1 thing to do is to wash it immediately with soap and water," says Dr. Marty Becker, a veterinarian, author, educator and frequent contributor to ABC-TV's "Good Morning America." "Lots and lots of running water. You want to flush the wound out."

Sherry Woodard, an animal behavioral consultant with Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah, agrees.

"If it is a serious bite, it's medical attention first," she says. "And have someone who knows what they're doing wash the wound. Go to a medical facility."

A next step would be to report the incident to animal control. (Call the police, and they'll generally just call animal control.) Because the vast majority of bite victims are acquainted with the perpetrator ("Very seldom is it a dog you don't know," Becker says), there's usually no reason to try to capture the culprit. The victim knows where Pluto lives. Let animal control handle it. If the attacker is a stray, all the more reason to get animal control involved.

"If it's a strange dog, report it as soon as someone's getting medical attention," Woodard says. "In fact, if people see dogs at large at any time, report them. We don't want a stray population running the streets."

Animal control will want to look at medical records—another reason to keep your dog up-to-date on its rabies inoculation.

"Literally, if this pet hasn't bitten somebody before and the rabies is current, everything tends to be all right," Becker says.

But if your dog isn't current, it could be taken away by animal control to be tested for rabies.

If it's your dog that did the biting, let the victim know that you want to stay involved. Get details of the incident, and piece together what happened. Did a child pull the dog's ear or tail? Did someone try to take away its food? Was the animal startled? Was it being territorial? Once you have that information, visit the vet for a checkup; there may be an underlying condition (age, pain or illness) that prompted your pet to bite.

Both parties may want to exchange insurance information; there may be medical bills.

Of course, a lot of pain and misery can be avoided with a few precautionary steps, whether it be training your animal, teaching your kids how to interact with dogs or learning to avoid potentially dangerous situations.


Two good sources of information are The Humane Society of the United States (, then type "dog bite" into the search field) and the American Kennel Club, which has created a program for kids in grades K-6 and offers it to teachers, librarians, youth groups and other community and civic organizations (—education/safetyvideo.cfm).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.