Seeking Medical and Legal Assistance Following a Dog Bite: Why It Matters

Key Points:

  • All dog bites can be dangerous no matter how small they may seem – mainly because they can lead to infection.
  • Proper first aid and attentive wound care can help reduce the risk of infection.
  • In Atlanta, dog owners can be liable for the damage their animals inflict, but building a case can be difficult without the help of an experienced attorney.
  • Dog bite victims may be able to recover from the dog owner for their medical bills, lost wages, as well as pain and suffering.

Every day in Atlanta and the surrounding areas, people are bitten by dogs. These injuries range from minor puncture wounds that can be treated at home to severe maulings that require hospitalization, extensive medical treatment, and multiple surgeries to repair the damage.

Since even small dog bites can lead to infections, it’s important for anyone who might come across dogs in their daily activities to know how to care for wounds and recognize signs of infection.

Any Dog Bite Can Lead to Serious Infection

Although most dogs are family-friendly animals, the possibility of a playful bite or all-out attack is always present. No matter which type of dog it is – from a chihuahua to a large pitbull – the bacteria that live in a dog’s mouth are the culprits that can cause the most dangerous complications – infections.

How to Care for a Dog Bite Wound

The deeper the wound from a dog bite, the more likely it is that bacteria from the dog’s mouth has been deposited deeply into underlying tissues. More severe wounds mean it can be harder to eliminate the bacteria.

After a bite, take the following seven steps as quickly as possible to help prevent an infection:

  1. Wash the wound carefully and thoroughly with mild soap and warm tap water. Take your time – washing for 5 to 10 minutes is recommended. (The deeper the wound, the more careful washing is needed.)
  2. Apply gentle pressure using a clean cloth over the wound to slow the bleeding.
  3. Apply an over-the-counter antibiotic cream liberally to the wound.
  4. Wrap the injury in a sterile bandage.
  5. See your doctor even if the wound seems minimal; tetanus is a very real possibility and can be avoided with an injection.
  6. Follow your physician’s instructions carefully and change the bandage several times daily.
  7. Watch for any pain, fever, redness, swelling, or seeping of pus or other fluid around the wound.

How Medical Professionals Treat Dog Bite Infections

Even with good first aid care, many dog bites become infected and can continue to cause tissue damage at the site of the injury.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, common bacteria involved in such infections can include Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, and Pasteurella. These infections can also spread throughout the body leading to septicemia.

In an effort to thoroughly cleanse the wound of infection-causing bacteria, medical professionals may anesthetize the wound so that it can be explored more thoroughly. The wound will then be irrigated and washed with normal saline. Some doctors will prescribe antibiotics right away, while others might wait until the injury shows signs and symptoms of potential infection before they introduce antibiotic treatment.

If, despite this attention, an infection develops, physicians will work to drain and cleanse the wound again and may use stronger antibiotics and/or use these medications in a hospital setting where the wound can be closely observed.

Four Most Dangerous Infections from Dog Bites


Rabies is a preventable disease in domestic animals. Pet owners should have their pets vaccinated as required by law. If the animal that attacked you has been vaccinated, you should have no fear of the disease. However, if you were attacked by a wild or stray animal, rabies can be a major concern.

A scratch or a bite from an animal infected with rabies can transmit this viral disease to the victim. According to the Center for Disease Control, the virus infects the central nervous system, and ultimately the brain, which leads to death.

Swift medical attention following exposure to the rabies virus can save the victim, otherwise, the disease progresses as follows.

The first symptoms of rabies are usually mild and include fevers, headaches, and general weakness. As the disease sets in, the symptoms become increasingly worse. Patients with advanced rabies experience some or all of these symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Paralysis
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Hydrophobia (fear of water)

Victims who experience these serious symptoms may die within a few days.

In dog bite cases, animal control officials often detain and observe the animal for up to 10 days to monitor it for signs of rabies. If the dog display signs of rabies, victims should begin treatment immediately. If the dog appears healthy and displays no signs of rabies, the victim may not require vaccination.

Pasteurella Infections 

Bacterial organisms, Pasteurella multocida, and Pasteurella canis are often found in dogs’ saliva. When passed to a human through a bite, these bacteria can cause a serious infection called cellulitis. This infection can spread and eventually lead to sepsis, which can kill in as little as 24 hours from the onset of symptoms.

Cellulitis symptoms may include swelling, redness, tenderness, and pus discharge near the wound.

If left untreated, the victim’s symptoms of the infection can worsen as it spreads. Common infections related to dog bites include:

  • Eye infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Meningitis – the inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
  • Pneumonia
  • Blood infections (sometimes called “blood poisoning”) can lead to septicemia, a life-threatening, system-wide condition that can take lives quickly if not treated promptly and aggressively

Treatment for cellulitis usually requires antibacterial medicines, such as amoxicillin and penicillin. In severe cases, a doctor may also drain and clean a patient’s wounds and/or use IV antibiotics in a hospital setting.

Staph and Strep Infections

The symptoms of staph or strep infections can include fever and redness and swelling around the wound through which the bacteria was introduced. These symptoms indicate that infection is present, and medical attention is necessary to prevent its spreading.

Not only can dog bites lead to staph and strep infections, but they can also turn into difficult-to-treat Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which does not respond to customary treatment and can lead to lengthy hospital stays and loss of income.

Capnocytophaga Infection 

While very rare, dog bites may also cause capnocytophaga infection as a result of the transmission of the bacteria capnocytophaga canimorus. These common bacteria can be found in the mouths of dogs, cats, and humans.

The bacteria generally don’t cause infection in healthy individuals; however, for those with compromised immune function, capnocytophaga infection can cause tissue necrosis, septic shock, and eventually lead to death.

Complications of this bacterial infection can be serious, including heart attacks, renal failure, tissue necrosis, or gangrene. This can lead to the amputation of fingers, toes, or even entire limbs. Unfortunately, approximately 3 in 10 people who develop this severe infection die as a result.

Recovering Financially from an Infection Caused by a Dog Attack

The complications of dog attacks can create chaos in a victim’s life. The costs associated with necessary medical treatment can be compounded by the victim’s inability to earn wages as the wounds heal. This stress, as well as the associated pain and suffering, can be seriously detrimental to one’s quality of life. If an infection develops following the attack, it makes matters much worse.

If you’re a victim of a dog bite or attack, you may be wondering if you have legal recourse. In Georgia, it is possible, but winning a dog bite case is not easy. The law gives dogs the benefit of the doubt, assuming all dogs are good unless they have demonstrated aggressive behavior in the past.

Even when there are complications from dog bites, like severe infections, that make the injuries more devastating, much of your claim will depend upon the dog’s previous behavior. Retaining a legal professional can provide you with the expertise and resources to help build your case.

One of the complications associated with dog bite cases is that restraint laws vary widely among municipalities. Before you can make a claim for an infection related to a dog bite, you will be required to build a case against the dog and its negligent owner. An experienced lawyer will know local legislation and understand how to prove if the owner can be held liable.

An attorney can also assist with speaking to witnesses and others in the area where the attack happened. These accounts may provide important information about the animal’s previous incidents of aggression, which can help establish if the dog who bit you was a “repeat offender.”

In Atlanta, it is crucial to prove that the animal’s owner knew about the animal’s propensity to bite, yet failed to take proper steps to restrain the creature. This information will provide the critical proof necessary in the pursuit of your claim.

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