What should I do if a dog bites someone?


If a dog has bitten someone, and the wound is larger than 1 cm, you should visit the nearest emergency department or summon an ambulance by calling 112. In the case of a minor bite wound or scratch caused by a bite, the injured area should be cleaned as soon as possible using first aid equipment.

Angry dog

According to Kristiina Mäemets, Head of the Centre of Emergency Medicine at the East Tallinn Central Hospital, dog bites that require a particularly critical response are those where there is a large open wound after the trauma. ‘The need to clean, sew, and begin treatment with antibiotics for such a large wound is urgent. If visiting the hospital immediately is not possible, it is worth summoning an ambulance for yourself or the injured person in such a situation.’

‘Another serious risk in the case of a dog bite is that tendons, which are crucial for a person’s mobility, are affected. The potential injury to the tendons can be tested by trying to move one’s fingers in the case of a hand wound or to check if the foot is moving in the case of a leg wound. If this movement is hindered, emergency medical care should also be sought immediately in order to receive prompt medical treatment. You should definitely not wait until the next day to visit the doctor in the case of such a severe trauma’,  advises the emergency department doctor.

The most important thing after a dog bite is to clean the wound

‘The most important thing after a dog bite is to clean the wound. This is the first thing done in the hospital, but small bite wounds can also be cleaned at home,’ continues Dr Mäemets.

Mäemets notes that if the mark left by a dog bite is less than 1 cm, the edges of the wound are not open, and only an abrasion can be seen on the surface of the skin, then you do not need to visit the emergency department. ‘In that case, the wound can be cleaned by anyone on their own at home, but for that to happen, an antiseptic, patches and bandages of different sizes must be pre-stocked in the home medicine cabinet,’ she says.

‘A small wound can be cleaned at home in the following way: first wash the wound with soap and water, apply antiseptic and cover with a clean patch or bandage. The wound must be cleaned immediately or as soon as possible, and one must not wait until the evening,’ says Dr Mäemets.

‘Over the next few days, it is also worth keeping an eye on the healing of a small bite wound. If redness or swelling occurs, you should contact your family physician, who will check the wound and decide on the need for antibacterial treatment,’ Mäemets explains.

In case of a dog bite, it is also necessary to check your vaccination against tetanus. ‘The effects of an administered tetanus vaccine last for 10 years. Therefore, we ask patients who visit the hospital with a dog bite how much time has passed since their last vaccination. If more than 10 years have passed, a tetanus vaccine should be administered. In the case of small wounds and scratches, the tetanus vaccine can also be administered at the family physician’s office,’ says Dr Mäemets.

According to statistics, about 100 bite injuries caused by dogs are recorded at the East Tallinn Central Hospital every year. Most of the bite injuries requiring a visit to the hospital have occurred while playing, pulling on a leash while walking, or jumping on someone.