What Types of Injuries Can Dog Bites Cause?

Key Points:

  • Dog bite injuries can range from minor cuts and abrasions to life-altering injuries or even death.
  • Bacterial infections from dog bites are common and can be extremely dangerous, if not treated right away.
  • You may be entitled to compensation for injuries resulting from dog bites.

For many households, dogs are a significant and cherished part of the family. But, the unfortunate fact is that even beloved family pets can bite.

Injuries from dog bites and attacks may include both major injuries and complications such as bacterial infections and scars or disfigurement. Other incidents can be as minor as cuts and scratches. All dog bites should be taken seriously.

This article includes some of the common complications our firm has encountered while helping dog bite victims.

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Bacterial Infection Injuries from Dog Bites

The most common and serious threats associated with dog bite cases are the infections that often develop at the injury site. Because of the puncturing nature of the wounds, dog bites are prone to serious infections as bacteria are literally “injected” deep into the tissue.

Here are a few of the worst infections associated with dog bites:


The bacteria that cause this rare but serious infection live and grow in the mouths of cats and dogs. While the germs don’t make the animals sick, they can cause serious infection and even sepsis in humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is particularly dangerous to people with compromised or weakened immune systems or those taking certain medications, such as steroids.

Symptoms of Capnocytophaga

  • Blisters around the bite wound appearing within hours
  • Redness, swelling, pus, or pain at the injury site
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Muscle pain

Treatment of Capnocytophaga

Luckily, Capnocytophaga responds to antibiotics. It’s important to consult with your doctor if you’ve been bitten by a dog and to treat the wound carefully according to your physician’s instructions.


 According to the Mayo Clinic, sepsis occurs when your body responds too aggressively to an infection. Ordinarily, the body secretes just the right level of certain chemicals into the bloodstream to fight infection when an injury occurs. But when the body over-reacts with these chemicals, sepsis can develop.

The chemical reaction within the body can begin to damage other internal systems, including the organs. Sepsis and septic shock can happen to anyone, but it is especially dangerous to older adults, pregnant women, infants under 1 year, and those with chronic conditions, like diabetes, kidney or lung disease, or cancer.

Symptoms of Sepsis

     Your doctor will perform blood tests to determine if sepsis is present. Symptoms typically include:

  • Evidence of infection near or around the wound
  • Blood clotting problems
  • Abnormalities in liver or kidney function
  • Low blood-oxygen levels
  • Electrolyte imbalances

Treatment of Sepsis

If an infection has progressed to the point of sepsis, antibiotics and intravenous fluids are used as treatment, usually in a hospital setting.


Rabies is a deadly viral infection spread to humans by the saliva of infected animals when bites occur. Luckily, thanks to widespread vaccination against the disease in the US, it is less common in domestic animals. However, because rabies is fatal when not treated, unless the dog’s owner has proof of vaccination, it’s best to be treated as if the animal was infected.

Once the rabies infection is established, there is no effective treatment, so fast action is imperative. Rabies can infect the central nervous system if the bitten victim does not receive necessary medical care immediately following exposure.

Symptoms of Rabies

If you are not absolutely positive that the animal that bit you does not have rabies, seek medical attention right away. Once clinical signs of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal.

According to the CDC, the signs and symptoms of rabies are:

  • Flu-like symptoms, including general weakness or discomfort, fever, or headache
  • Discomfort or a prickling or itching sensation at the site of the bite
  • Cerebral dysfunction
  • Anxiety, confusion, and agitation
  • Delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, hydrophobia (fear of water), and insomnia

Do not wait for symptoms to develop before seeing a physician if you might have been exposed to rabies.

Treatment of Rabies

The rabies treatment process should begin as soon after the bite as possible.

The first step is a fast-acting injection of rabies immune globulin to prevent the virus from infecting you. This injection is typically delivered near the wound site.

The next step in rabies treatment is a series of rabies vaccinations over several weeks to help your body learn to identify and fight the rabies virus.


Tetanus, also called “lockjaw,” is born by bacteria found in soil, dust, and manure. The bacteria usually enter the body through breaks or punctures to the skin caused by contaminated objects, like when you get bit by a dog or step on a rusty nail.

Symptoms of Tetanus

  • Cramping of jaw muscles
  • Sudden muscle spasms, often in the stomach
  • Widespread muscle pain and stiffness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Seizures
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Increases in blood pressure and heart rate

Treatment of Tetanus

Tetanus is a serious condition that typically requires hospitalization. Treatments for tetanus will involve intravenous tetanus immune globulin drugs to diminish muscle spasms, antibiotics, rigorous wound care, and the use of a respirator if needed to help with breathing.


Pasteurella multocida is one of many bacteria that can be found in the saliva of animals.

According to the CDC, Pasteurella is found in pet-bite injuries 75% of the time. This represents a health risk for many, especially the elderly, who live with companion animals.

Symptoms of Pasteurella

Pasteurella infections cause redness and inflammation shortly after the biting incident. Later, infections of the bones, including osteomyelitis and septic arthritis, can develop. Abscesses are also common with these infections. If the infection progresses, pneumonia and generalized sepsis can occur.

Treatment of Pasteurella

Pasteurella infections generally respond positively to antimicrobial medications, such as amoxicillin.


The acronym MRSA stands for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, a dangerous bacteria that cause infection, depending on where the bacteria are introduced.

MRSA is a “superbug” and is much more difficult to treat than most staphylococcus aureus strains, also known as staph, because it’s resistant to many common antibiotics.

Symptoms of MRSA

MRSA symptoms depend on where one’s infection develops. It often causes irritations to the skin, such as blisters, boils, or abscesses. It can travel to recent surgical wounds, the bloodstream, the lungs, or the urinary tract. Some of these infections can be life-threatening.

Treatment of MRSA

According to Web MD, since MRSA was first discovered in 1961, it has developed a resistance to some common antibiotics, including methicillin, penicillin, and amoxicillin. But MRSA may still respond to other antibiotics, which may be given through an injection when needed.

In some cases, doctors may make an incision to drain the boil or abscess.

Minor Injuries from Dog Bites

Bearing in mind that infection is the most likely consequence of a dog bite, there are other temporary problems with these injuries. The vast majority of dog bite injuries are relatively minor and may include:

While these injuries can be relatively minor abrasions, they can still develop complications. A wound that requires closing with staples or stitches can present a greater risk of infection.

Watch all dog bites for symptoms of infection, including redness, swelling, pus, and increased pain around the wound.

Serious Injuries from Dog Bites

More severe, deep-wound dog bites, like punctures and skin tears, often require surgery and skin grafting and may lead to long-term issues of scarring and/or loss of mobility. The risk for complication rises with the number of bites and the areas in which those bites occur.

Bites that interfere with several layers of the skin are deep enough to impact muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones and can have long-lasting consequences. Because more medical intervention is typically necessary, they can also be highly expensive to treat. When a course of reconstructive surgery is required, the medical bills can mean tens of thousands of dollars and years of recovery.

Emotional Trauma After a Dog Bite

Some people who suffer a dog attack have lasting emotional trauma that can impact their lives and forever make it impossible to live normally.

Severe or Life-Changing Injuries from Dog Bites

A dog attack or mauling can result in life-altering changes for the victim and their families.

Some of these life-changing injuries are:

  • Bone Fractures – Bone fractures are always serious, especially when they occur on the facial bones or hands and feet. These fractures can result in not just an altered appearance but also impairment of functionality. The delicate bones in the areas most often injured by dog bites are easily crushed, which can result in the need for extensive surgeries to replace or repair damaged areas.
  • Torn Ligaments – The areas of the body most often injured in dog bites are the face, hands, and feet. These areas of the body are where delicate bones, ligaments, and tendons are all close to the surface of the skin. All are susceptible to tearing and crushing injuries from a dog bite. Because the blood supply to the extremities is not robust, this can also lead to infections and difficulty healing.
  • Avulsions – These injuries involve chunks of tissue being torn from the body, including all three layers of skin. These are much more severe than simple lacerations but not as severe as full amputations. Avulsionshave a much higher degree of infection risk. Additionally, avulsions can leave scarring, disfigurement, and permanent mobility issues from loss of muscle function.
  • Amputations – When absolutely necessary, dog bites can result in the removal of fingers, toes, arms, legs, and feet.
  • Nerve Damage – When individual nerves or nerve networks are disrupted, permanent pain can follow. Injured nerves can also result in the loss of muscle function.
  • Fatalities – While uncommon, severe dog attacks can be fatal. Children and the elderly are more at risk of succumbing to their injuries.

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What to Do If You Experience a Dog Bite Injury

If you suffered a dog bite, the next steps you should take depend on the severity of your injuries.

Treat if minor – Because of the risk of infection or rabies, it is best to seek professional medical attention. Follow standard emergency first aid. If there is minor bleeding, cleanse the wound and apply a bandage.

For deep or severe injuries, seek professional medical care immediately – Debridement of the injury, the careful removal of any dirt or debris from the wound, is essential to lowering the risk of infection. This should be done by a physician. A tetanus vaccination or rabies prevention treatment may be necessary, as well as other medications.

Connect with a dog bite lawyer – Because dog-bite cases can be challenging to prove and difficult to obtain compensation, it’s wise to consult with an attorney as soon after the incident as possible. Most personal injury lawyers offer a free first visit where you can learn what steps you can take to protect your rights.

The Millar Law Firm has been fighting for the rights of dog bite victims for decades. If you’ve been injured, call our office today and schedule a case review. 770-400-0000.

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