Many people who have suffered a dog bite fear contracting rabies. However, while there may be a chance of rabies infection from an unvaccinated animal, the chances of contracting the virus from a dog bite are actually relatively small because most pet dogs receive the vaccine.

A dog’s mouth may be home to approximately 60 species of bacteria. Fortunately, most are not dangerous to humans. Nevertheless, it is important to watch for signs of infection following a dog bite because some bacteria can cause serious illness.

Tetanus

Tetanus results from a toxin given off by a particular species of bacteria. When the toxin gets into the bloodstream, it causes muscles to become rigid and immobile. This often affects the muscles of the face, which is why tetanus also goes by the name of “lockjaw.”

Tetanus is a potentially life-threatening disease, but vaccination is effective at preventing infection. If a patient has not had a booster for five to 10 years, he or she may need a tetanus shot following a dog bite.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus

If bacteria survive contact with an antibiotic, they can develop a resistance to it. This means that the next time a patient receives the same medication to treat an infection, it may not be as effective. MRSA is a strain of bacteria that has become resistant to the most common antibiotics used to treat infections. Patients often need stronger antibiotics, and recovery can take longer.

Pasteurellosis

Fifty percent of patients with infected dog bites have Pasteurella present in the wound. A severe case can affect the nervous system and/or spread throughout the body. A mild case can cause localized infections of the skin or wound site that are nevertheless very painful.

Though these disease-causing bacteria are present in a dog’s mouth along with many others, they do not make the animal sick. Therefore, it is impossible to tell just by looking whether a particular dog is a carrier.