Do I need a tetanus shot for a dog bite?

The short answer is yes. If the dog bite has punctured your skin and you have not had a tetanus shot within the last 5 years, then you should call your doctor to arrange for a shot.

Ever since domestication, dogs have become man’s best friends. These animals have provided man with affection, unwavering loyalty as well as protection. Unfortunately, dogs are predators. Domestication has not curbed the dog’s inherent behaviour of raising the hackles and baring the teeth at the slightest sign of perceived threat. About 2% of the US population gets bitten by dogs every year. Out of the over 4 million dog bite incidents, 750,000 are serious enough to need medical attention. Contrary to the notion that the pet would not bite its human family and that biting incidents usually happen outside the home and caused by unfamiliar dogs, statistics show that dog bite incidents are commonly caused by the victim’s own dog. It is therefore necessary for dog owners or for people that lives around dogs to know what must be done if someone gets bitten by these animals.

Dog bites are commonly not life threatening. People would know that after a biting incident, it is necessary to thoroughly clean the wound to ward off infection. People are also aware that rabies shots are necessary if the dog is a stray or is not up to date with its rabies vaccination. However, not many people are aware that dog bite victims would also need tetanus shots. Clostridium tetani is the bacterium that causes tetanus. In the form of a spore, this hardy organism can live in the soil for years. The bacterium is also found in the stomach and in the feces of animals. There is a common misleading idea that tetanus is associated with rust. A puncture wound caused by a rusty nail for instance would make a person run to a doctor for a tetanus shot. Tetanus is not caused by the rusty nail rather the rusty metal that punctures the skin would deliver spores deep into the skin where it will thrive in the oxygen-free environment. The activation of these spores will result to the development of gram-positive bacteria that will multiply and cause the production of a toxin that will generate uncontrollable spasms of the muscles. Tetanus is also called lockjaw as the muscle spasms will cause the jaws to lock. Tetanus can cause death if the muscles that are used to breathe will spasm so that the brain and other vital organs of the body are deprived of oxygen. People bitten by dogs have to watch out for swelling and pain in the bitten area, headache as well as severe muscle spasms. These are the signs of tetanus.

Tetanus injection is necessary after a dog bite because the dog may be a carrier of the tetanus bacteria. Similar to rabies, these particular bacteria can also be transmitted through the dog’s saliva. If the dog bite victim did not have tetanus shots, infection will set in after the bacterium has entered the body. Again, similar to rabies, tetanus incidents can be prevented with vaccination of tetanus toxoid. However not all dog bite victims would need a tetanus shot. Tetanus shots would not be necessary if the dog bite victim have had a shot for the last five years. A booster shot will be recommended if the dog bite victim is not sure when she/he was last vaccinated. In this case, the tetanus shot must be given within 72 hours after the dog bite incident. Because schools require a complete tetanus vaccination record, children commonly receive tetanus booster shots. Kids that have received booster shots for less than ten years need not have tetanus shots after a dog bite. Tetanus is a horrible life threatening disease. Although you cringe at the thought of a needle, go get the shot!

How should I clean a wound?

Why do dogs bite?

How to train a dog not to bite?

First Aid if your dog has been bitten