Signs of a dog bite infection

Updated April 17, 2017

Dog bites are traumatic and potentially dangerous events, representing a high probability of infection -- especially if the bite goes untreated. A dog's saliva has a broad diversity of bacteria. In almost 100 per cent of dog bites, harmful bacteria and other dangerous pathogens are present and can be transmitted to the bite wound. Signs that a dog bite has become infected include redness, pain and oozing pus.


Dogs bite approximately two million people every year. About one per cent of those bitten are injured seriously enough to require hospitalisation. Children more than adults are the victims of dog bites, and more boys than girls suffer infection. Numerous factors contribute to the likelihood of infection from a dog bite. Of all dog bites, 15 to 20 per cent will become infected and represent more than 80 per cent of all documented animal bite incidents.


Inflammation at the site of the dog bite is the most common sign of infection. Redness and swelling generally develop in about eight hours, but it can take up to one full day. Increased warmth around the dog bite is also a sign of infection, as is pus or a white discharge. Lymph glands that become enlarged or sensitive can also indicate that the dog bite has become infected. Another sign is reddish streaks on the arms or legs radiating from the dog bite wound.

Fatal infections

More advanced or severe signs of a dog bite include meningitis, a brain abscess and even a heart infection. An infected dog bite wound can cause death, bone marrow inflammation or gangrenous arthritis. A dog bite wound should never go untreated. Any dog bite that breaks the skin and causes even just a little bleeding should be cleaned thoroughly and watched closely for signs of infection. If swelling or oozing occurs, professional medical attention should be sought immediately.


Although rabies isn't a problem in the UK, this unpleasant disease is rife in most parts of Europe. Be aware of the rabies risk if you're bitten by a dog while on holiday abroad. Early signs of rabies include symptoms similar to the flu, such as a headache and a high fever. Muscle spasms and a sudden aversion to water following the dog bite could be an indication of a rabies infection.

Tetanus and sepsis

Serious and deadly infections, such as tetanus, can be transmitted through a dog bite wound. Signs of tetanus following a dog bite are swelling and pain at the site of the wound, headache and severe muscle spasms. The best protection against contracting tetanus is a tetanus booster shot every five years. Sepsis, also known as septicaemia and blood poisoning, can also result from a dog bite. Signs of sepsis include chills, fever and exhaustion or collapse. Sepsis must be treated immediately by a qualified doctor, who will order a course of antibiotics.

Treatment time

Harmful micro-organisms can grow inside a dog bite wound and subsequently cause life-threatening infections. Dog bites that become infected are very serious and can result in limb amputation. Immediately following a dog bite, the wound should be thoroughly cleansed with warm soapy water and an antiseptic should be applied. The dog bite wound should be bandaged.

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