Mistreated, abused, and frightened dogs can turn vicious, and every year, many people are attacked. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are more than 4.5 million people bitten by dogs in the United States every year, with more than 800,000 requiring medical attention for those bites. It is important to note that at least half of the victims are children, and children experience the most severe dog bite injuries each year.
The American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) states on its website that dog bites pose a significant risk to health. Dog attacks are traumatizing experiences. Even worse, the victims are usually children, often with a dog that is familiar to them. There are infections that can come from animal bites that demand immediate medical attention. If medical intervention is not given, the dog bite may be fatal.
Dog attacks can cause serious injuries when a dog causes a victim to fall to the ground; it might not be a bite that causes the injury. Orthopedic injuries, such as broken bones, require surgery and several weeks to heal. Soft-tissue injuries, like torn ligaments or tendons, are complicated injuries to recover from, requiring physical therapy and occupational therapy long after the injury.
Nerve damage can also result from a dog bite, and while many forms of nerve damage can be healed without invasive surgery, some types may require it. This type of injury will also take many weeks or months to heal. If it is a large scar or disfiguring injury, there may be needed plastic surgery to diminish the physical remains of the wound, and there will be emotional distress as well. The emotional pain of the injury is just a small part of the psychological damage from an attack. Dog bite victims can develop a fear of dogs for the rest of their lives.
Beyond getting the medical care and paying for it, victims have the added disadvantage of lost time at work, which means less wages are coming in while bills are going up. A dog bite victim should contact a lawyer. There are legal protections that can ensure that the medical bills and health problems that result from this incident are covered while the victim is recuperating from the injuries.
What Laws Protect Dog Bite Victims?
In Delaware County, dog owners are required to license their dogs or face fines. All dogs that are three months or older in Pennsylvania need to be licensed every year, or the owner needs to purchase a lifetime license. The lifetime license need to be purchased through the county treasurer’s office, and it requires that the dog be microchipped, so even if the dog is running around without a collar, animal control can track down the owner and the dog’s medical history.
If a person is bitten by a dog in Delaware County, animal control must be notified immediately, and the owner must provide proof of a recent rabies vaccine. The animal must then be taken to the veterinarian for an examination and health certification, and the results need to be shared with animal control. The dog must be quarantined for 10 days, and it must be supervised by an adult.
Under Pennsylvania law, the owner is liable for all damages when a person is severely attacked or if a dog had attacked previously and is considered dangerous. Owners who fail to comply with the state dog laws can be held liable for full compensation to the victims.
Delaware County Council acknowledges a separate problem for dog bites: a stray canine can bite, and an owner might not be found because the dog is not microchipped or does not have a collar. When dogs are licensed, it becomes incumbent on the owner to have the dog vaccinated and receive veterinary care on a regular basis. To make it easier to get this done, Delaware County has made the licensing procedure simple through its website and at 13 county buildings, where residents can drop off licensing applications and paperwork.
A victim and the dog’s owner should know when a licensed dog was last vaccinated. However, a bigger problem is when an unknown dog bites a victim and the owner cannot be located. For those that are concerned about a dog being euthanized for a bite, the Delaware County Animal Control office says that is important to let people know that this rarely happens.
There is often talk following a biting incident about outlawing ownership of certain types of dogs. However, the AVMA recommends against this, noting that this often happens to pit bull type dogs, but it is not a reliable or effective solution for dog bite prevention. The AVMA has made a public stand against these kinds of rules and holds that any dog can bite, regardless of size, gender, and breed. It is more about the dog being provoked, its individual history, and its behavior.
What Should I Do Immediately After a Dog Bite?
While serious wounds are going to clearly require immediate medical attention, there are steps that can be taken at home to prevent a dog bite from becoming infected. Medical News Today advises that preventing infection for minor wounds needs to be done right away. Here are the steps:
- Wash the wound with soap and warm water, clean the area thoroughly.
- Run lukewarm water over the wounded area to flush out bacteria.
- Apply antibiotic cream to the wound, and then wrap a clean bandage around it.
With deeper wounds, people should:
- Press a clean cloth against the wound to stop the bleeding.
- Seek medical attention right away.
- Call 911 if the bleeding is uncontrollable, or the bite victim thinks they might faint.
Once the wounded person can get medical care, it is likely that the doctor will clean the bite, using a syringe of water and wound cleaning solution to flush out bacteria and stitch up the wound if needed. The doctor may then prescribe antibiotics to fight off bacteria that have entered the body, and a tetanus shot must be given if the victim did not receive one in the last five years. Rabies vaccines may also be necessary.
Bites on the hands or feet carry a higher risk of infection. Certain infections from dog bites can be very serious and lead to complications. Without treatment, these infections can be fatal. According to Medical News Today, the bacteria in the dog’s mouth can cause an infection. This may be a less obvious problem than a bleeding wound, but it can be just as dangerous.
Symptoms that the dog bite is infected include:
- Swelling and redness around the wound
- Difficulty moving the wounded body part
- Night sweats
If a person thinks that a dog bite has resulted in damage to the nerves or bones, they should seek emergency treatment. Emergency treatment is also necessary if an infection has spread to other parts of the body. People should also seek medical attention if the dog that bit them was acting strangely, or they are unsure whether the dog had received a vaccine against rabies.
What are Common Dog Bite Injuries?
Sometimes, dogs are aggressive, but they do not use their teeth to harm a person. They can knock people down or chase them down, and injuries might happen without any biting at all. Victims of aggressive dogs deserve compensation for the pain of those injuries, regardless of whether the wound involved a bite or a knock down.
The infections that are possible can be serious or even fatal. While many know about rabies and tetanus, there are other infections, like sepsis and capnocytophaga, that are possible as the result of the dog bite. Due to of the possibility of these infections, medical care should be sought immediately following a dog bite that breaks the skin.
While many dog bites, like those of a teething puppy, are mild and can be treated by washing and using an antibiotic ointment, some require medical treatment, surgery, and sometimes plastic surgery to counter permanent scarring. However, there are other serious injuries that could come from the bite, including:
- Puncture wounds
- Broken bones
- Eye injuries
- Head, neck, and facial injuries
- Nerve damage
- Emotional damage
The infections that can occur can be quick and serious. They are also preventable by seeing a doctor right away. Some other important information on rabies, tetanus, sepsis, capnocytophaga, and other dog bite injuries and illnesses are listed below.
Rabies is a virus that spreads to people from the saliva of an infected animal, creating a neurotropic viral illness, and it is almost always fatal for the human victim as well as the animal. To prevent the onset of rabies following a dog bite, a doctor will treat the victim with post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), which means the victim will receive a shot of human rabies immune globulin in the area of the bite.
Many dog bite victims say the process is remarkably uncomfortable, some people describe it as painful. However, it prevents the disease and needs to be done quickly as there is no proven cure after symptoms show, and animals with it normally die within five days. There is no way to test a live animal for the disease, as evidence is found in the brain tissue of a dead animal, which is why it is best to seek medical care right away following a bite from an unknown dog.
Some typical symptoms of rabies include:
- Excess salivation
- Muscle spasms
- Mental confusion
While people can get rabies from animal bites, it is far more likely that it will come from a bat than a dog in Delaware County, according to the Delaware County Animal Control.
Tetanus is a bacterial infection that leads to muscle spasms, particularly in the jaw and neck, and a puncture wound can lead to the infection. A dog bite can cause tetanus bacteria to enter the body. Symptoms of tetanus include:
- Cramping in the jaw
- Muscle spasms, usually in the stomach
- Difficulty swallowing
- Muscle stiffness
People with any symptoms of tetanus need immediate medical attention. They will require medications, such as antibiotics, as well as a tetanus vaccine.
Sepsis occurs when chemicals released in the bloodstream to fight an infection trigger inflammation throughout the body. This can cause a cascade of damage to multiple organs, leading to failure, and sometimes sepsis can result in death.
Symptoms of sepsis include:
- High or low body temperature
- Extreme daytime sleepiness
- Severe pain or discomfort
Treatment includes antibiotics and intravenous fluids. It is uncommon that dog bites lead to this illness, and it is another reason to go to the doctor for a dog bite that breaks the skin. Sepsis can be treated with antibiotics and fluids.
This is an illness from a dog bite that can be extremely serious if it is left untreated. Symptoms can appear between one and 14 days after a dog bite. The illness can lead to kidney failure, heart attack, or gangrene, and it usually hits hardest on those who are immunocompromised, such as one undergoing chemotherapy, or someone who is drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Doctors will prescribe antibiotics to treat the capnocytophaga infection.
Some common signs of capnocytophaga include:
- Redness, swelling, and pain around the wound
- Oozing wound
- Vomiting and diarrhea
There are different types of nerve damage that dog bite victims can experience. Some common forms of nerve damage are listed below.
Neurapraxia: This is damage to the myelin sheath, which is not part of the nerve, but it insulates the nerve and allows electrical signals to move along the nerves. Numbness, burning, and stinging are symptoms of neurapraxia. Victims may not need invasive medical treatment, but neurapraxia is painful and may result in a loss of function for a few months. Physical therapy, range of motion exercises, rest, icing, and elevation of the injured area can help treat neurapraxia. It will often take several months to heal.
Axonotmesis: This is damage to the myelin sheath and the axons that surround it. The damage quickly results in sensory issues, loss of motor function, and possibly paralysis. If the nerve is not severed, people can make a full recovery, but this too may take several months, possibly even years to heal.
Neurotmesis: This is a severe form of nerve damage and occurs when the nerve axons and myelin sheath are completely severed. This will not spontaneously heal, and surgery will be required. Pain, uncomfortable feelings, loss of motor control, and loss of sensation are typical symptoms of neurotmesis. Doctors will likely wait to see if the nerves regenerate before making the diagnosis. Unlike other forms of nerve damage, neurotmesis will not spontaneously heal, and a full recovery does not usually occur. Instead, surgery will be required, but it may not undo all the effects of the damage.
What Damages are Available in Dog Bite Cases?
Since dog bites are more likely to happen to children, the medical care needed may be extensive. Medical care is costly, particularly emergency medical care and plastic surgery. Most plastic surgeries are also not deemed as necessary by health care insurance companies, so these expenses might be out-of-pocket costs.
Medical care and lost income damages might be awarded to a dog bite victim. Non-economic damages include pain and the suffering induced by the treatment for the injury and the emotional impact of the injury on the victim, particularly when it is immediately visible to others. Those who are injured by a vicious dog should call a lawyer for help with their case.
How can I Avoid a Dog Bite Injury?
Many people suffer from dog bites each year. It is important to learn about ways to prevent dog attacks. Some crucial considerations include:
- Avoid a fenced in yard with a dog. Incidents with dogs that are behind a fence are avoidable if individuals do not touch the fence or try and pet a dog when it is behind a fence. The dog is vulnerable and may bite.
- Dog bites do not always occur with a strange dog. Many of the dog bite injuries to children happen with familiar dogs while children are doing ordinary activities.
- Paying attention to body language is often key to avoiding an aggressive dog incident. While this is difficult to teach a child, it is also more reason to monitor a child when they are interacting with a dog.
A dog will display some behaviors and actions when they feel threatened, scared, and angry. People should give a dog some space and avoid interactions when the encounter the following behaviors and actions:
- The dog is growling, trembling, snapping, or barking.
- The dog is not with its owner.
- Clinginess to the owner.
- The dog appears to be hiding or seeking time alone.
- The dog leans forward.
- Bared teeth.
- A dog visibly stiffens its body.
- Avoids eye contact.
- Submissive urination.
- Flattened ears.
- Licking its lips.
- The hair along the dog’s back is raised. This is often referred to as raised hackles.
- Drooling or panting.
How can I Tell if a Dog is Friendly or Relaxed?
There are many signs that indicate a dog feels unsafe or angry. However, there are also many behaviors that friendly and relax dogs display. Some behaviors that may indicate a calm dog include:
- Relaxed, wiggly body. This is particularly true with puppies.
- Tail loosely wagging.
- Relaxed ears.
- Mouth gently open.
What Should I Do if a Dog is Scared?
Many dog attacks occur each year in the United States. Due to the frequency of dog bites, it is best for families to take some safety precautions when encountering scared dogs. Fearful dogs have learned that snarling and biting can end situations that make them anxious. Fear interferes with learning positive lessons, and a scared dog may instead learn that snarls and biting makes frightening situations go away. Touching or talking to frightened dogs just makes the panic worse.
It is up to a good owner to identify what is making the dog fearful, such as loud noises and fireworks, and the pet owner should help them deal with frightening situations. There are some considerations to remember when coming across a scared dog, including:
- Know that a scared dog might be hand-shy, especially those that have been abused. This can be a reason for biting.
- Strong eye contact is a dominant-dog behavior and can be intimidating.
- A person should sit on the floor some distance away, ignore the dog, and let the dog come to them.
- Standing over a dog who is already anxious will make the dog more stressed. Do not loom over them.
- Turn sideways when approached by a fearful dog.
- Speak in a high-pitched voice.
- Do not show fear or emotion.
The CDC reports that one out of every five people that are bitten by a dog need medical attention. A wound does not have to have excessive bleeding for a doctor’s care to be necessary. After any dog attack, it is imperative to seek medical attention. Another helpful step is to contact a lawyer. A lawyer will help their client determine if they have a viable dog bite case.
Delaware County Dog Bite Lawyers at Anthony C. Gagliano III, P.C. Advocate for Victims Severely Injured by Vicious and Dangerous Dogs
A dog bite can cause serious injuries and financial losses, but a knowledgeable and committed lawyer can advocate for you. If you are a dog bite victim, it is advisable to speak to the Delaware County dog bite lawyers at Anthony C. Gagliano III, P.C. right away. Our legal team will fight tirelessly to protect your rights. For more information and a free consultation about your case, contact us online or call us at 267-861-7100. We are located in Philadelphia, and we proudly serve clients throughout Montgomery County, Delaware County, and Norristown.