How Do You Know if a Dog Bite Is Serious?

Aggressive dog showing teeth

When a dog bite occurs, the victim needs to know if it’s serious and when to seek emergency medical attention. Even a bite that is not initially critical may become dangerous if it is not correctly treated. Our dog bite attorneys share what you need to know about serious dog bites.

How Often Do Dogs Bite in Florida?

Thousands of dog bites occur in Florida each year. Injuries may be severe—even fatal. The Insurance Information Institute (III)¹ estimates that Floridians submitted 1,235 dog bite claims in 2020 with an average cost per claim of $55,111. Florida is second to only California in number of dog bite claims.

Are dog bites dangerous? Looking at these numbers, it’s clear to see that a dog attack can result in severe injuries that can significantly affect a person’s life.

What Are the Signs a Dog Bite Is Serious?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)² shared that 17% of dog bite victims suffer injuries serious enough to receive medical treatment. Here are 10 signs that a dog bite may be serious and you should see a medical professional:

1. Bleeding

Bleeding³ is an immediate concern following a dog bite. If a dog bite puncture wound is bleeding, a person should apply pressure to the wound using a clean cloth or gauze until someone with more medical training can take over to administer dog bite care. Seek medical attention immediately.

2. Pain

Pain signals the body that something is wrong. When a person feels acute pain after a dog bite, it is a sign that the bite is serious. The underlying issues of the pain should be addressed, and pain management can be one component of dog bite treatment.

Related: Sarasota Dog Bite Attorneys

3. Mobility Problems

Difficulty moving the affected limbs is a sign that you’ve suffered a serious bite. Damage may have occurred to nerves and bones⁴. Paralysis may result, and immediate medical treatment is appropriate to stabilize the injury and prevent future damage.

4. Numbness, Tingling and Stinging

Like pain, other strange feelings from the nervous system may mean that something is not right. Numbness may signify that nervous system damage has occurred or that the nerves are compressed⁵ from other injuries.

5. Debris or Teeth in the Wound

Any kind of debris, teeth, food, or other object left in the puncture wound greatly increases the risk of infection. Wound cleansing decreases the likelihood of infection and creates the best environment possible for the wound to heal.

Part of effective dog bite care is cleaning the wound when it occurs and continuing to clean it with each dressing change. A healthcare professional should educate the victim on proper wound care.

6. Deep Wounds

Any time a wound is deep, it may be a serious dog bite. A deep wound is more likely to impact nerves and bones. Treatment is essential to prevent infection and promote healing. A deep wound should be thoroughly cleaned, and the victim must receive care instruction for dog bite treatment going forward.

7. Broken Bones

A dog bite can be so severe that it breaks a bone. When a broken bone may have occurred, treatment is needed to set the bone and prevent future disfigurement and mobility limitations. Surgery may be appropriate. These types of dog attack wounds are less common with a small dog bite.

Related: St. Petersburg Dog Bite Attorneys

8. The Victim Has a Compromised Immune System

When the victim of a dog bite has a compromised immune system, they are especially at risk of suffering serious complications⁶ from a dog bite. A victim should seek personalized attention whenever a compromised immune system may be a factor.

9. The Dog Isn’t Up to Date on Vaccines

Certain viruses can exist in the saliva of infected animals. A dog who isn’t updated on vaccines carries an elevated risk of having transmissible viruses. If the dog is wild, that is another reason for concern. Also, be wary if the dog acted strangely leading up to the bite.

Post-exposure rabies prophylaxis (PEP)⁷ may be necessary if the dog’s vaccination status is unknown. Also, talk to your doctor about your last tetanus immunization and if a tetanus booster is recommended.

10. Infection

Even if you initially thought that a dog bite wasn’t serious, it may show signs of infection later. If a wound becomes infected, it is serious. Signs that you should seek medical attention immediately for infection may include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Radiating pain
  • Fever

What Should I Do If a Dog Bites Me?

Dog Bite

It can be shocking and disorienting to know what to do when a dog attacks you. Some things to remember when a dog attacks⁸ are:

  1. Remain calm. Screaming or reacting will only excite the dog more.
  2. Do not kick or punch the dog. Retaliating could make the situation worse and provoke the dog even further.
  3. Keep your arms in front of you to protect you. Protect your face and vital organs by keeping your arms in front of you. You can also curl yourself into a ball and try to be still.
  4. Try your best to move away from the dog. With your arms still in front of you, back away from the aggressive dog slowly and steadily.
  5. Once you are able to break free, keep moving away. Do not turn back, make noise, or move suddenly. It could cause the dog to react again.

You should be worried about a dog bite if it is more than just a minor cut. Without proper medical care, significant complications may result, which can turn a small bite into something much more severe.

How Do I Pay for Medical Treatment for a Dog Bite?

When a dog bite occurs, you may wonder how you will pay for your medical care. Florida law § 767.04⁹ creates strict liability for dog owners, with comparative negligence principles applied in cases of provocation. In addition, many claims go through the owner’s homeowner insurance policy.

Even if the dog owner is a friend or family member, it’s worth talking to our lawyers about your options and how you may have your medical bills covered by bringing a claim. You may also claim other types of compensation, including property damage and pain and suffering.

Related: Clearwater Dog Bite Attorneys

Lawyers for Dog Bite Medical Treatment Compensation

If you have been injured by a dog bite, you may deserve financial compensation for your medical care and other damages. Contact our attorneys for a consultation about your claim and to learn your legal options after a dog attack.


¹Insurance Information Institute (III). Dog Bite Homeowners Liability Claims Nationwide Increased 18 Percent; California, Florida And New York Lead Nation In Number of Claims. Retrieved 14 March 2022.

²Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nonfatal Dog Bite–Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments — United States, 2001. Retrieved 14 March 2022.

³Cleveland Clinic. (7 February 2020). If a Dog Bites You, Do These 7 Things Now. Retrieved 14 March 2022.

⁴Watson, S. (30 August 2020). Dog Bites. FETCH by WebMD. Retrieved 14 March 2022.

⁵Ansorge, R. (11 November 2020). Tingling in Hands and Feet. WebMD. Retrieved 14 March 2022.

⁶MedlinePlus. (18 February 2022). Pets and the immunocompromised person. Retrieved 14 March 2022.

⁷World Health Organization (WHO). (2018 September). Frequently Asked Questions About Rabies for the General Public. Retrieved 14 March 2022.

⁸O’Dowd, P. (21 August 2019). Why Dogs Attack, And What To Do If A Dangerous Canine Approaches You. WBUR. Retrieved 14 March 2022.

FLA. STAT. § 767.04 (2021)

The information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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