Pet First Aid: Treating Your Dog's Animal Bite

Tips to Save Your Pup From the Health Risk of Another Animal

Golden retriever playing with another pet dog
David Leswick - D Stop on Flickr / Getty Images

Puppies are so inquisitive they may approach a strange dog or even a wild critter and risk an animal bite. So what if the worst happens and your puppy is bitten? Bites from wild animals or unknown pets create a potential rabies risk. Cats unhappy with a pestering puppy could chomp down, and needle-sharp kitty teeth create puncture bites you might not even see underneath the fur. Nearly all cat bites become infected and may swell and turn into an abscess.

Bites from Dogs

One of the most common animal bite suffered by puppies, are from other dogs. Dogs may bite to guard their territory or resources, out of fear or protection, or due to prey aggression. Neighborhood dogs, stray or feral dogs, and coyotes can cause tremendous damage and kill your puppy.

Dog bites can be very serious. When the canine teeth puncture the skin, they can rip and tear the muscle beneath when the attacker shakes his head. Think of the damage puppy teeth do when the baby dog grabs and shakes a stuffed toy—and multiply that by two or three times to imagine what happens to the fragile puppy body.

Internal organs can be bruised or torn, bones can fracture, and eyes can pop out of the socket. The shaking may literally “rattle his brains” and result in personality/emotional changes in the same way that “shaken baby syndrome” can damage the developing infant’s brain.

All animal bite wounds need veterinary attention. But first aid can help prevent infection (it takes bacteria about an hour before it causes problems). With severe bite wounds, first aid may be necessary to save your puppy’s life and keep him alive in order to get to the vet for professional care.

Dogs being bitten
© Santiago Urquijo/Getty Images

First Aid for Animal Bites

Stop The Attack: Before anything else, break up the fight. Be very careful you don’t become a bite victim yourself. Wild animals and cats typically run as soon as a human comes near. For dogs, use an air horn to startle and chase off the attacker from the victim. Soaking with a spray of water from the hose or dumping a bucket of water on the dog that's attacking may also work. Grabbing the aggressive dog, though, may prompt him to attack you. If you must make contact, grab his ​tail or both rear legs to “wheelbarrow” him so the attacker releases the victim.

Is Puppy Breathing? Some bite injuries can puncture the lungs or tear the diaphragm. This can cause puppies to stop breathing. If that happens, you’ll need to administer rescue breathing. That could jump-start the respiration again, or you may need to continue breath support on the way to the animal hospital. 

Check the Puppy’s Heartbeat: Don’t automatically assume your puppy is beyond being helped if you detect no heartbeat. Cup your hand over the point of his chest, right behind his “elbow” to feel for the heartbeat, and if it’s not there, perform CPR

Deal With Shock: Even if the puppy’s breathing and heart continue unabated, a bite injury can cause shock. He might be bleeding on the inside of the body from deep bites or bruising, and the shock may kill him in less than 20 minutes. Keep him warm, and his head lowered, and get him to the vet as soon as possible.

Restrain Your Puppy: Bites are very painful, and in order to treat the baby dog—and keep him from making the injury worse—you’ll need to restrain your puppy.

Control Bleeding: As with people, applying steady constant pressure is the best way to control bleeding. Most bite wounds don’t bleed a great deal, and applying a clean soft washcloth with firm pressure should stop the bleeding within about five minutes.

Clean Around the Wound: Your vet will want to provide appropriate antibacterial ointments or other medications, but you can help prevent further wound contamination by cleaning around the injury. A little bit of warm water and unscented soap can be used. If your puppy is in a lot of pain, wait to have your vet clean the wound so they can administer sedation and pain medication or numb the area first.

Provide Pain Relief: Until you get a pain prescription from the vet, you can use an ice pack to relieve the discomfort. Soak a washcloth with cold water, ring it out, place over the wound and apply the ice pack on top.

For Serious Eye and Belly Bites

Provide a Belly Band: Bites that penetrate the abdomen can open up and expose the internal organs, or even allow them to spill out. Hold the puppy’s tummy together with a clean towel wrapped all the way around his abdomen and back, and secure with an elastic bandage. If you don’t have the bandage, use a self-sticking plastic wrap.

Keep Eyes Moist: If the eyeball pops out of its socket, soak a sterile gauze pad or new makeup sponge with contact lens saline solution, or warm water, and cover the eye until the pup can get to the veterinarian.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.