How to support your child after a dog bite

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When a child experiences a dog bite it can impact them and their families. Find out what to expect after a dog bite and how to support your child.

Key points

  • After a dog bite, your child may feel nervous and upset around dogs, avoid the place where the dog bite happened and have questions about why the dog bit them.
  • If the dog is not your own, call Public Health to report the attack.
  • It is important to talk to your child about the dog bite and answer any questions they may have. Your child's health-care team can help you with these discussions.

What to expect after a dog bite

  • Your child may feel nervous, upset, hesitant or jumpy when around dogs after the incident.
  • Your child may avoid the place where the dog bite happened or places that remind them of it.
  • If the dog is your own, the child may be scared to be around your dog and avoid your dog.
  • Your child may have questions about why the dog bit them.

Actions to take after a dog bite

If the dog is not your own, call your local Public Health line to report the bite. Public Health will ask you for details about the attack including the date, location and time the attack occurred, where the dog lives, and the owner's information. Public Health officials will support your child’s health-care team to determine the risk from the bite, the dog’s vaccination status, and in some cases will keep the dog at home with their owner. Public Health may also create a report with animal services to investigate the incident further.

When should I reach out for additional support for my child?

Trauma responses to accidents and injuries can include:

  • nightmares
  • being unable to sleep
  • anxiety
  • guilt
  • shock
  • flashbacks
  • hyperactivity
  • not wanting to go to school
  • difficulties in school

If these reactions last more than a few weeks after the dog bite, speak with a member of your child’s health-care team.

What to talk about with your child

It’s important to let your child talk about the dog bite if they want to. Hearing you talk about the bite helps them understand it is OK for them to talk about it too. Remind your child it is not their fault, and they are not in trouble. Remind your child they are safe.

Include siblings in these discussions. They may be feeling nervous around dogs too, even if they were not involved.

Your child may have questions about what to share with their classmates and teachers. It can be helpful to make a plan with your child about what they will tell their classmates. It may also be helpful to call your child’s teacher before they return to school, so they can support your child. It is up to you how much you and your child want to share.

If your child was bitten on the face, they may be feeling self-conscious or nervous about seeing their face or scars for the first time. You can work with your child life specialist and social worker in the hospital about making sure that your child sees their face for the first time in an intentional manner in the mirror. It is normal for your child to have strong reactions and emotions the first time they see themselves.

If you are unsure how to talk about dog bites with your child, you can always talk to your child’s health-care team.

Supporting yourself as a caregiver

Caregivers may feel worried after a dog bite occurs. It is normal to feel upset and nervous if your child is bitten by a dog. Make sure to take care of yourself so you can look after your child. Make sure to eat, sleep, and rest. Call a friend or family member to share how you are feeling. Do your best to get back into your normal routine.

Caregivers can feel at fault or guilty after their child is bitten by a dog, but it is important to remember that dogs can be unpredictable, even with adequate supervision. It is not your fault.

Caregivers may also feel worried about having to explain what happened. It may be helpful to make a plan about what you will say to neighbors and peers before you see them. Remember that you can always share as little or as much as you want to.

Last updated: March 21st 2023