What Are the Different Types of Dog Bite Injuries?

Doreen E. Fiorillo

Dog bite injuries are typically categorized by their severity, from minor to serious and life-threatening. There also can be psychological injuries caused by dog bites, particularly for people who were traumatized by the experience; emotional scars are particularly common amongst children. Dog bite injuries can include many different types of physical markers, including cuts, abrasions, punctures, lacerations, infections, and fractured bones. Minor dog bites might result in bruising, scratches and small punctures from the dog’s teeth, whereas more serious encounters can leave large, gaping wounds, deep tissue damage, and nerve damage. Many jurisdictions have laws that apply to dog bites, and victims may be entitled to damages and payment from the dog’s owner. A lot depends on locality as well as the severity of the bite.

A rottweiler, which is one of the types of dogs most responsible for fatal attacks.
A rottweiler, which is one of the types of dogs most responsible for fatal attacks.

Understanding the Phenomenon Generally

Dogs are very popular house pets in many parts of the world and many are bred specifically to be docile. Some breeds are more aggressive than others, but even still most will bite if provoked or startled. Millions of people are bitten by dogs each year. Approximately one out of six people bitten by dogs require medical attention, and dozens of people die each year from the bites and their complications. The breeds of dogs most responsible for fatal attacks are pit bulls and Rottweiler. In general, about 5% of the dogs that attack people have had prior reports of attacks on people or other animals.

Dog owners are legally liable for bite injuries inflicted by their dogs.
Dog owners are legally liable for bite injuries inflicted by their dogs.

Minor Wounds

The most common bites aren’t serious. These are nips or scratches that can be scary, but aren’t likely to do lasting damage. Any time the skin is broken by an animal’s teeth it’s usually a good idea to get medical attention to rule out complications, but most of the time a bandage and an antibiotic ointment are all that’s needed to promote healing.

More Serious Injuries

Deep puncture wounds or bites that cover large swaths of skin may require stitches or even surgery to repair. These are usually the result of intensive dog attacks, rather than single bites. Depending on the dog, though, even one bite may lead to extensive medical repairs. This is particularly true of large dogs with strong, clenching jaws or dogs with known diseases. When a diseased dog bites a person, the person must usually undergo a range of different tests and antibiotic regimens to rule out the associated risks.


Infections are often a secondary result of dog bites. Although most infections are easily treatable, the common Capnocytophaga canimorsus infection can be extremely dangerous. In most cases, a routine round of antibiotics is all that’s needed to reduce the risk.

As a precaution, all dog bite wounds should usually be cleaned immediately, then irrigated with saline solution. A tetanus shot should follow if the victim has not had a recent tetanus booster. Starting rabies treatment is usually part of the treatment plan, as well, particularly if the dog is unknown and unable to be located. This can be skipped if the dog has an up-to-date rabies vaccine.

Special Risks for Children

Children are often most susceptible to dog bite injuries, particularly injuries to the face and nose. In part this owes to children’s small stature. They’re more at the eye level of most big dogs, and sometimes are littler than the dogs that bite them. Many children also have an unhampered curiosity and an inability to gauge danger the way adults could. Young children often provoke dogs without realizing what they’re doing; very aggressive dogs sometimes choose children as easy prey, as well. Eye injuries are common in children who’ve been bitten in the face and can lead to vision loss. Sometimes, reconstructive surgery is necessary to repair severe damage in the facial area. Broken or fractured bones must be set and nerve injuries repaired.

Emotional Ramifications

Scars, whether physical, emotional or psychological, are common after a dog attack. Physical scars can usually be modified with medical intervention. Emotional and psychological scars might prove more difficult to treat. Depression, fear, nightmares, withdrawal are all signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, and mental health treatment should typically be sought if the victim is experiencing these symptoms.

Laws and Liability

Consulting a personal injury attorney who specializes in dog bites is usually an option for someone who has suffered a dog bite injury. It is especially important if a death occurs as a result of a vicious dog attack. Dog bite laws in most jurisdictions place varying degrees of liability on the dog owner. Suing the dog owner for compensation might include seeking compensation for pain and suffering, medical and mental health expenses, loss of earnings, future disability, or future medical expenses. The costs of mounting a lawsuit can be high at the outset, but in cases of serious injury or costly medical treatments, it might be worth it.

Dog bite injuries may range from minor to severe.
Dog bite injuries may range from minor to severe.

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Discussion Comments


What if the child told the dog bit her later on or months after? There are no symptoms at all. Is it okay to have a vaccine?

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