Are doctors obligated to report dog bites in California?

Doctors are obligated to report dog bites in California for which they provide evaluation or treatment. Doctors have to make the report even if the victim was not seriously hurt and the dog was not rabid. The report has to go to local health officials or their designees. It has to be made immediately.

The purpose of mandatory dog bite reporting is to stop the spread of rabies. However, doctors still have to report the bite, even if they do not suspect that the dog is rabid. The only exception to the reporting requirement is when the dog has bitten another dog.

dog biting man
Doctors have to report dog bites in California whenever the victim is a human being.

What law requires doctors to report a dog bite?

17 California Code of Regulations 2606 is the law that requires doctors to report dog bites.1

This regulation requires all people to make a report if a human was bitten. This includes medical doctors who treat bite victims. The report goes to the local health officer or the officer's designee. It has to be made immediately.

Reports must be made whenever someone is bitten in a “rabies area.” The director of the State Department of Health Services declares which counties of California are rabies areas.

Whenever a bite happens in a rabies area, the local health officer or their designee has to be notified. This is true, even if the dog is not suspected to be rabid.

What is a “rabies area”?

In California, a “rabies area” is a county where rabies is a public health hazard. The Director of the State Department of Health Services can declare what counties are rabies areas.

It is at the discretion of the Director to declare a county to be a “rabies area.” However, Health Services Directors have called all 58 California counties rabies areas every year since 1987.2

This means that doctors in all counties have to report every time a person gets bitten by a dog.

dog walker walking dogs
Even bites that do not result in injuries have to be reported

How badly does the person need to be hurt?

All bites have to be reported, even those that do not cause any injuries. No penetration is required to trigger the reporting requirement.

Example: Dr. Smith sees Claire, a 5-year-old, in the emergency room. Claire was playing with the neighbor's dog when it pushed her over and broke her arm. Claire also says that the dog bit her on the leg. Dr. Smith sees teeth marks, but no wound.

How can I make a report?

Each county has its own reporting process. They all report dog bite incidents to the local health department. Some of these departments list animal control agencies as their designee. In these counties, the report goes to animal control. These reports can be submitted via fax or online in many counties in California.

Reporting a dog bite usually requires the following information:

  • time and place of the incident,
  • name and contact information of the person who was bitten,
  • contact information for the victim's parent or guardian, if the victim was under 18,
  • name and contact information of the dog owner
  • description of the dog, including the breed,
  • location and description of the wound,
  • treatment information for the bite, including how many stitches were needed to close it, and
  • the name and contact information of the reporting doctor.

Examples include reporting procedures in the following counties of California:

Legal References:

  1. “Any person having knowledge of the whereabouts of an animal known to have or suspected of having rabies shall report the facts immediately to the local health officer. The health officer shall likewise be notified of any person or animal bitten by a rabid or suspected rabid animal. In those areas declared by the Director of the State Department of Health Services to be rabies areas (See Section 1901.2, California Health and Safety Code) the local health officer shall be notified when any person is bitten by an animal of a species subject to rabies, whether or not the animal is suspected of having rabies.”

  2. See e.g., California Department of Public Health, “Declaration of Rabies Areas – 2019.”

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