My dog bit someone! Two aspects of a delicate situation

March 11, 2019

There are the legalities, and there are the emotions. How you can help your veterinary clients through this much-dreaded situation.


Maybe one of the worst things a dog owner can face-if their pet harmed another person. The legalities and emotions are all wrapped up in one unfortunate moment. We sought the advice of two experts for how you can help advise your veterinary clients.

Is that dog dangerous?

Want help assessing whether one dog bite means another in the future? Keep this internal info sheet handy on what signs to watch for from Dr. Wayne Hunthausen.

The legalities, from a shelter vet-Nicole Ferguson-Morrison, DVM, MS, MPH, MRCVS

When a client's dog bites another person, it's essential that you, as the veterinarian, become familiar with the steps to take to fulfill the ethical obligations of your profession. The first step is to determine whether you, as the veterinarian, are required to report a dog bite to the local health department. Even if not required, as a professional with public health involvement, my recommendation is to notify your local health department via their animal bite, rabies exposure or other required form that a dog bite occurred.

All states require a 10-day quarantine in vaccinated and unvaccinated dogs from the date of the bite. The term quarantine will differ from state to state, with this information available on the state public health websites. Often, local health departments have specific criteria for home quarantine. Some areas may require that the dog remain at a veterinary clinic for observation during this time. Ensuring that you remain informed on what your state, county or city requires is important to relay this information correctly to your client.

Dr. Nicole Ferguson-Morrison is a shelter veterinarian at Lee County Domestic Animal Services in Fort Myers, Florida, and a board member of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians.

The emotions, from a veterinary behaviorist-Lisa Radosta DVM, DACVB

Dog bites are common. They come in all flavors from no marks on the skin to those requiring medical treatment. Pet parents can also run the gamut of emotions from fear of losing their pet or a lawsuit to anger to embarrassment. Sometimes, the bites are clearly the fault of the victim who may have disregarded the pet parent's pleas to refrain from approaching or petting their dog. Regardless of the damage done or the cause, pass these basic things on to the pet owner do to help their dog.


> Contact your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination and possibly recommend tests. Diseases of any body system, including skin, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal and neurologic, can contribute to or cause aggression.

> Ask for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist. Finding the underlying cause and starting appropriate treatment is essential for prevention of further bites.

> Avoid that situation in the future so that you can prevent bites.


> Make excuses. Dismissing the problem isn't going to help your dog. Your dog bit someone, the best thing to do is get help for your dog.

> Assume that because the bite didn't break the skin, there will not be another bite or that the next bite won't be worse.

> Take it personally. Nice dogs bite sometimes. This is not a judgement of your dog's personality.

Dr. Radosta is the owner of Florida Veterinary Behavior Service in West Palm Beach, Florida.