A recent article in the Toronto Sun described one physician’s approach to dealing with dig bites in kids. It contains some useful information, but also a couple of areas that probably require some clarification.

In the article, the physician lays out a few points regarding management of dog bites in kids:

The first thing a parent should do after such a bite is to stop the bleeding by applying pressure. Then, clean the area with warm water and soap. Dogs, like humans, have dirty mouths, so you want to wash and rinse well and even flush out the wound if it’s deep.

  • "The solution to pollution is dilution" is a old adage. Thorough cleaning is a critical step.

If the bite wound is small, it’s usually not sutured, as this might increase the risk of infection. On the other hand, facial wounds and larger bites have to be well cleansed and irrigated, and may require stitches. The sooner this can be done the better.

For a child with a dog bite that has broken the skin, most pediatricians would recommend a seven-day course of an antibiotic, typically Augmentin (unless the child is allergic to penicillin).

  • I’m not sure "most" doctors would start a child on antibiotics after any bite that has broken the skin – at least I hope not. Typical recommendations for bites include that antibiotics should be considered with moderate to severe injuries, puncture wounds, people with compromised immune systems and bites over specific areas like joints or the face. Antibiotics for minor soft tissue injuries in otherwise healthy individuals are not typically recommended, although there is some controversy.

Rabies is usually not a risk in dogs that are family pets and live in homes. If the dog is not known or their rabies status is unclear and you can’t locate the pet, check with your pediatrician about rabies prophylaxis.

  • True. Rabies from pet dogs is very rare in North America. However, if you get it, you almost certainly die, so we take precautions even in low risk situations. So, a little more discussion of this point is important.
  • Every dog bite must be approached as a potential rabies exposure. Key points for this are identifying the dog and ensuring it’s quarantined for 10 days. After 10 days, if it’s healthy, it couldn’t have transmitted rabies with the bite. Related to this, any dog bite should be reported to local Public Health personnel. They will ensure that quarantine is imposed if the dog is known, and facilitate rabies post-exposure prophylaxis in the rare situations that it is needed. In Ontario, physicians are bound by law to report bites to Public Health.

Dog bites are unfortunately very common. Usually they are minor and heal without much trouble, but serious or fatal injuries can occur and infections are a potential problem. Knowing what to do in response to a dog bite is important to reduce the risk of a range of complications.