What To Do If You Get Bit by a Strange Dog

Disclaimer: If you’ve stumbled upon this post because you got bit by a strange dog and are now Googling what to do, here’s your advice: get off the internet and seek help from a medical professional. Seriously. I take no liability for you.

If you recall, on Monday I wrote about how my intercepting of a bit of a tussle in the off-leash got me bit by someone else’s dog. If you’d like to read the full story, click here.

Suffice it to say, doing so should come with a don’t try this at home, kids warning. Even if you go in as an unbiased arbitrator, you can easily find yourself on the pointy end of 42 teeth. I was a completely biased arbitrator and I sure did.

That’s not to say I would go back in time and not intercept the dogs – I still would. But there are risks.

Anything can happen at the off-leash park

Anything can happen at the off-leash park

So say you do get bit by a dog you don’t know – then what?

1. Exchange information

Step one and I already failed. Yep, after separating the dogs and enduring some awkward small talk, I got the heck out of there. To be honest, I knew I got bit but I didn’t know I had any injury myself. I knew Moses was fine, so we left. It wasn’t until we finished our walk and got home that I discovered my own injury.

But what you should really do is get some information about the owner and the dog. Is the dog a local? It he up to date on vaccinations? Get a name and phone number.

You should also give some information yourself. I didn’t do this either. I actually have no idea if those guys knew I got bit, but I should’ve (calmly) told them. They need to know what their dog might do in the heat of the moment and mitigate accordingly (training, no more off-leash, a muzzle, whatever’s right for the dog).

2. Clean up

Because the dog didn’t puncture my jacket, I didn’t think he’d puncture my skin. He did.

A scratch and a lovely yellow bruise - not exactly a big deal. (That's Emma photobombing.)

A scratch and a lovely yellow bruise – not exactly a big deal. (That’s Emma photobombing.)

Just like every other time you do something dumb and subsequently injure yourself, you should wash up with soap and water, and disinfect.

Even if you’re not punctured but you have some drool on you from the strange dog, you should clean up – especially if rabies is a real concern.

And, obviously, if you’re seriously injured or bit on the face/neck, you should just go straight to a clinic or emergency room (use your judgment) and they’ll clean you right up.

3. Contact a medical professional and follow his or her advice

I had the great timing of getting bit by a strange dog on a long weekend, but if your family doctor’s office is anything like mine (has the most inconvenient hours), they’re probably not going to be open anyway.

In Alberta, we are lucky and have Health Link – a 24 hour hot line you can call and get connected to a nurse for some general advice. Since I don’t go to a clinic unless absolutely necessary as a general rule, this is what I did.

Why? I got bit by a strange dog! I could get rabies! And then die!

Couldn’t I?

Fans of The Office? Anyone?

Fans of The Office? Anyone?

Well, not so much, as it turns out.

There have only been 3 cases of rabies in Canada in the past 12 years and all of those were due to bat-related incidents. An altercation with a domestic dog does not pose much of a threat for contracting rabies in Canada. Even cats pose a higher risk, the nurse on the phone informed me.

I described the incident and my little scratch and she went through the official decision tree, which I later found online here.

Bite/Rabies Decision Tree

Bite/Rabies Decision Tree

Domestic pet dog? Check. Provoked attack? Check. (Technically, involving yourself into some canine commotion is considered provoked, which does make sense.) Albertan dog? Probably. Happened in Alberta? Check.

Risk is basically nil. Phew!

If it was a stray dog or cat or a wild animal, the decision tree is a bit different and the risk is higher.

Rabies - wild animals

I didn’t get off scot-free however.

The nurse was asking me about my little laceration and then said “when was the last time you had a tetanus shot?”

Ummm… no idea (which means definitely not in the last 10 years).

Well, she informed me, an animal bite, no matter how minimal, is considered a “dirty wound”. Gross.

So off I went for an injection after all. Say what you will about our health care system, but I was in and out in 15 minutes and didn’t pay a dime.

Telling the doctor the reason for my visit granted me a nice lecture about how I should’ve gotten information from the other owners before leaving the scene (I know, I know), but further assurance that I wasn’t in need of a rabies vaccination. (I may have even asked him to give me one because… you know… what if…. But no.)

In any case, I’m glad I confirmed with the authorities, even if it’s just a stupid little grievance. It would just be my luck that I’d let it slide and then something ridiculous would happen. And I really don’t recommend Googling information about rabies to make yourself feel better… because you won’t. 

And if something ridiculous still does happen, I’m advising publicly now that I’d like my tombstone to read ‘Tis But a Scratch.

This post is part of the Thursday Barks & Bytes Blog Hop, hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like a Dog. Go pay a visit to the hosts and check out other hop participants.


About ThatJenK
Writing from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 90% pictures of my dogs; 10% miscellaneous opinions nobody asked for.

18 Responses to What To Do If You Get Bit by a Strange Dog

  1. Ouch! What a bully dog you and Moses encountered! I hate getting tetanus shots too.

  2. OOOhhhh, glad its only a little scratch and that despite the risk you are alright 🙂

  3. 2browndawgs says:

    You are lucky that it is not a prevalent disease in Canada. It is here. 2009 there were 69 cases in my state alone, (but maybe that is only vaccines given and not actual cases). Granted most are from wild animals but the fact that the wild animals have it can translate to a domestic animal. I credit people vaccinating their animals with lowering the transmission to domestic animals and then to humans. Even unlikely, it would just make me nuts and I would have to get the vaccine…lol.

    I know someone who got blood poisoning from a cat bite so I guess you have to watch for that too. 🙂

    The thing is that if you had reported that dog for a bite, I wonder whether there would be repercussions to the dog? That is the troublesome part of reporting imo. If it is just a one time thing, you hate to see something bad happen to the dog. If it is a vicious dog, that is another thing too I suppose.

    Thanks so much for linking up to Barks And Bytes with this great info.

    • ThatJenK says:

      Your comments always lead to such good ideas for other posts! First the rabies comment (totally spurned this post!) and now on reporting the dog. The short answer is that if you go in to get a bite checked out here, the report is done for you and you don’t really have a choice – unfortunately or not. But I think I’ll dig in a little and see what I come up with! Thanks!

  4. Jodi says:

    Great advice and information here and thank you for joining Thursday’s Barks and Bytes.

    I’ve been bitten many times by dogs, mostly dogs I knew so I wasn’t concerned with the rabies aspect of the bite. However many years ago I was taking a walk and this small dog came running at me from an apartment building I was passing. I thought it was just a small dog doing the yappy thing so I kept walking and ignored the dog and that little sucker came up and bit me on the back of my leg! I told the owner that his dog bit me and he said, well he’s never done that before and quickly grabbed his dog and took it inside.

    I called the dog warden, because I wanted to make sure the dog was up to date on his shots, and thankfully he was.

    But I’m thinking like 2BrownDawgs, what would happen to the dog? That might keep me from reporting it, depending on the seriousness of the bite.

    Either way, I’m glad you are okay and your injury wasn’t too serious!!

    • ThatJenK says:

      I’ve only been bit one other time – it was by a chihuahua and I totally had it coming and knew it was going to happen, but went ahead anyway because there was a collar/leash situation that needed to be untangled for the little guy and the owners were unable to address it themselves but asked for my help. Again, not what I’d call ‘unprovoked’, but little dude – even though he thought he was fierce – didn’t even penetrate my gloves, so no harm done.

      (Obviously I’m not counting times when Moses throws his face around haphazardly while playing/wrestling/chasing – just intentional bites.)

  5. Papoe says:

    Oh we’re glad you’re alright.
    One of Mommy’s relative dies because of rabies 😦

  6. Wow – I read your post about the bite the other day and didn’t realize you’d been bit so badly. Good advice about gathering the info, although I understand your desire to just get out of there. Glad you are okay.

  7. FleaByte says:

    Omigoodness. I’m glad you got a tetanus shot. I got one the week of my wedding because I was bitten by a small child. Evidently the human mouth is a dirty thing, too. Right through my jeans, and I bled.

    This has been a rough month with injuries. My boy inhaled chemical gas and wound up in the ER. My other boy sliced off a big chunk of his thumb and had it stitched back on. What the heck is up with all these injuries?!?

  8. Goodness, I guess it was good it’s winter and you had your coat on or you might have gotten it worse. I’m such a dummy, I didn’t know a tetanus shot was needed for stuff like that. Luckily I vaguely remember my last one, so I think it was within ten years. Glad you weren’t hurt worse. Great idea to write a post for folks to know what to do if they get bit!

    • ThatJenK says:

      Haha – I should’ve been more specific. Tetanus shots should be renewed every 5 years, but generally my memory on random stuff can somewhat reliably go back to 10 years (-ish).

  9. I’ve only been bitten once. It looked very similar to your injury. You will have that mark for a long time to come. Hopefully you’ll never have to use the information you learned for yourself. But maybe someone else will find it useful.

  10. Nailah Bone says:

    Haven’t been bitten by a dog (yet) but since I too will throw myself into the fray to save my pet I know it’s a big possibility. The last time Nailah got attacked I did call the police even though neither my dog nor me were injured, I was just really angry that the owners of the offending animal said it was my fault and called me all sorts of lovely things. Also I really did see their dog as a threat to the public.

    Thanks for the well written and informative post! 🙂

  11. Donna O. says:

    Ha ha ha…this made me laugh! “get off the internet and seek help from a medical professional.”
    And only because it is so typical these days. Facebook said to do such and such, so it MUST be okay.

  12. RunwithLab says:

    Hello 🙂 I’m a stalker of your blog, and am also a NW Calgarian. Thanks for this post – It’s assured me that it’s very unlikely that my dog will get rabies from having gotten bit by another dog (a golden) today. Anyhow, I’ve got to go clean her puncture right now.

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