What Diseases can You Get from a Dog Bite?

dog-bite-wound-careWhen it comes to dog-bite related diseases, probably rabies, also known as hydrophobia (fear of water), will be the one that comes to your mind first. No doubt, rabies is the worst and well-known possibility associated with a dog bite. Besides this deadly disease, dog bites can still cause other possible diseases like tetanus, bacterial infections, and wounds. Of course, the latter ones can be life-threatening too. So, a prompt treatment for dog bits is crucial.


As an acute infectious disease caused by the rabies virus, rabies affects both humans and animals, especially dogs, wolves, cats and other carnivores. Humans are mostly infected after they have been bitten by the infected animals. Main signs and symptoms may include the unique panic to liquids and wind, pharyngeal muscle spasms, progressive paralysis, and so on. Because the fear of water is so obvious that it is also known as hydrophobia.

Some researchers have found that only 30% to 70% of the people would get infected after they are bitten by crazy animals even though no precautions have been taken. The onset and the length of the incubation period are closely related to the bite sites and the nerve conduction of virus. Generally the average incubation period is about 1 to 3 months, in which no symptoms will occur. Next, the patients enter the prodromal period, in which the main symptoms include discomfort all over body, fever, fatigue, anxiety, bite site pain, paresthesia, and the like.

So, the incidence of this disease depends on whether or not the dog is with rabies virus. And currently vaccinations are the only way to prevent rabies. If you are not sure a dog has been vaccinated or infected with rabies, rabies vaccine will be given once you are bitten. Fortunately, in the case of timely treatment is given it rarely causes death. However, the mortality rate of this disease is nearly 100 per cent once it attacks. That’s to say, very few patients can survive rabies.


Infected animal bites can be very dangerous since it may lead to tetanus (lockjaw), which may kill you too. The teeth of warm-blooded animals, including humans, have a variety of bacteria and viruses. In addition, because the dog bite wound tends to be deep and complex-shaped, it is suitable for bacterial growth and the occurrence of tetanus.

Tetanus is a dangerous disease caused by Clostridium tetani. The bacteria enter the body through broken skin, especially in the case of the piercing, deep wound caused by fangs. Clostridium tetani bacteria are anaerobic. In other words, it won’t easily cause infection when the wound is shallow. On the contrary, a deep wound can provide an ideal living environment for the growth of Clostridium tetani since they are not exposed to the air. So, the incidence depends on the wound made by a dog bite. In addition, a more formal debridement can greatly reduce the chance of infection.

If the bacteria take root and produce toxins, the muscles will begin to tighten and pain. Since the muscles of head, neck and jaw are mostly affected, this disease is also called “lockjaw.” It can be deadly if it hinders the ability to breathe. While currently there is no cure for the existing tetanus, the vaccine can help the body fight against the invaders and get rid of the toxins.

Illness caused by bacteria

In addition to Clostridium tetani, many other bacteria can be found in the mouth of dogs too. Although most of them respond well to many common antibiotics, some serious infections can be controlled only by more aggressive antibiotic therapy. In the worst cases, even amputation is necessary. According to a recent study conducted by US scientists, bacteria from Pasteurella, Staphylococcus, and Streptococcus could be found in almost 50 per cent of the bite wounds. Besides, bacteria from Neisseria and Fusobacterium are also very common too.

What to do if a dog bites you?

It is a good idea to immediately wash the dog bite wound with soap and water, use rubbing alcohol to disinfect, and vaccinate timely. If the wound is obvious, HT (rabies immune globulin (human)) should be injected as soon as possible. These measures can help to reduce the risk of this disease.

In theory, the sooner the rabies vaccination for humans is given, the better the effect will be. However, the rabies vaccine given after 24 hours makes no difference as long as a vaccine can stimulate the body to produce enough immunity before the rabies symptoms occur. In addition, a vaccine should be still given to those who have exposed to rabies virus for a few days or even months but haven’t got vaccinated for some certain reasons. And it is important to note that the dose of first one or two injections should be doubled in the latter case.

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