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Texas Dog Bite Laws

In a perfect world, we’d never have to deal with dog bite injuries. Unfortunately, dog attacks are a reality we can’t avoid. While dogs and humans have been buddies for over 12,000 years, far too often, we’re reminded that they can be dangerous animals when they give in to their base instincts. Even the friendliest family pet is capable of causing serious injuries with a bite attack.

Dog bite attacks are terrifying and traumatic experiences for the victim, often resulting in a trip to an emergency room. They’re difficult on the dog’s owner as well. They not only have to accept that their four-legged friend has hurt someone but also face civil action and possible criminal charges.

In the aftermath of a dog attack, it’s important to understand Texas dog bite laws. In this article, we’ll explain the relevant statutes, help you determine who is liable, and show what Texas dog classifications mean to both canine and owner. Read on to learn about these subjects and much more.

Texas Dog Bites - Laws and Liability

Texas doesn't have a civil liability law specifically for dog bites. But this doesn't mean you won't face strict liability if your dog bites someone. The Texas Supreme Court articulated the law and standards that Texas follows for animal attacks in the Marshall v. Ranne case.

Marshall v. Ranne and the One-Bite Rule

In the Marshall case, Paul Marshall sued John Ranne for damages suffered when Ranne's boar severely injured his hand. Both a jury and an appeals court ruled against the plaintiff, saying he knew he was dealing with a dangerous animal. But the Texas Supreme Court reversed the decision. The court reviewed previous court cases involving animals and decided that Texas could hold the owner of a vicious animal liable for damages.

With this ruling, Texas became a one-bite rule state. This means the owner can be held strictly liable for any medical bills and damages caused by an animal either known to be dangerous or which could be dangerous. If the animal has never bitten anyone before, then the owner can be found not liable. In essence, the dog gets a free bite.

Dog bite injuries are usually covered by homeowners’ insurance. If you aren’t sure about your coverage, check your policy or consult with your insurance company.

Dog Bites and Negligence

The one-bite rule doesn’t protect against negligence. In Texas, if the bite victim can prove the dog’s owner failed at providing a duty of reasonable care expected in the situation, they can recover medical damages for the personal injury they suffered. To win a negligence dog bite case, the victim must show the dog’s owner was negligent by proving the following:

  • The dog’s owner had a duty of care
  • The dog’s owner breached that duty
  • If not for the dog owner’s breach, the victim would not have suffered an injury
  • The dog’s owner was aware that harm could happen from their breach

Examples of this type of negligence per se would include bites resulting from letting the dog run at large (off-leash), not properly restraining a vicious dog while near another person in a public place, or violating another animal control law. Pet owners in Texas are responsible for keeping their dogs from harming others.

Texas Dog Bites and Comparative Negligence

Texas uses a modified form of comparative negligence, also called proportionate responsibility. This means that if you’re found partially at fault for the injury, the damages in your claim can be reduced.

If you are the dog attack victim and found to be at least 50% at fault in the incident, you won’t be able to recover any damages.

Dangerous Dogs in Texas

Dogs that threaten or attack people in Texas run the risk of being classified as a dangerous dog. The two ways a dog earns the label of being dangerous are:

  • Making an unprovoked attack on a person that causes bodily injury and occurs in a place other than an enclosure in which the dog was being kept and that was reasonably certain to prevent the dog from leaving the enclosure on its own

  • Committing unprovoked acts in a place other than an enclosure in which the dog was being kept and that was reasonably certain to prevent the dog from leaving the enclosure on its own, and those acts cause a person to reasonably believe that the dog will attack and cause bodily injury to that person

A ruling by either a court or an animal control authority can also classify a dog as dangerous.

Owners of a dangerous dog have increased responsibilities and restrictions associated with keeping their dog, which include:

  • Having registration and paying a fee
  • Restraining the dog at all times, either with a leash or in an enclosure
  • Obtaining a liability insurance policy of at least $100,000
  • Complying with all applicable municipal or county regulations, requirements, or restrictions on dangerous dogs

Failure to comply results in a Class C misdemeanor charge against the dog’s owner.

If the owner of a dangerous dog commits criminal negligence by allowing his dog to commit another dog attack, they face a felony of the third degree. If the dog attack becomes a wrongful death, the charge becomes a felony of the second degree.

Certain defenses to a dog attack allow the dog to avoid being classified as a dangerous dog. Some of these defenses are:

  • The victim was trespassing on the dog owner’s private property
  • The dog was leashed and under control at the time of the attack
  • The owner was attempting to regain control of the dog
  • The dog was lawfully engaged in hunting, farming, or herding
  • The victim was committing a crime

Attacks by dangerous dogs are serious. If you find yourself facing felony charges, speaking with a criminal defense attorney is a good idea.


Texas dog bite laws state that any dog that attacks a person must be quarantined for at least 10 days. This allows observation for rabies, a dangerous disease that can be fatal to humans. The Local Rabies Control Authority (LRCA), often a local animal control officer, will decide where the dog will be quarantined.

If housed in a facility licensed by the Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS), the dog’s owner is responsible for all costs.

For a dog owner to be allowed to quarantine their dog at home, they must meet the following requirements:

  • Current vaccinations
  • The dog was not a stray at the time of the attack
  • A secure enclosure
  • Constant monitoring for any symptoms of rabies
  • Visits by the LRCA or a licensed veterinarian

If any rabies symptoms present themselves, the dog’s owner must alert the LRCA or a veterinarian immediately.

Texas Dog Bite Laws: The Basics

While this article focuses on civil liability for dog bites, a discussion of criminal penalties has been provided below as well. The chart below provides a helpful, plain-language summary of statutes that comprise Texas' dog bite laws, with links to important code sections.

Texas Dog Laws, Negligence Laws, and Statutes of Limitations

Texas Health and Safety Code:

Texas Penal Code:

Texas Civil Code:

Dog Bite Liability and the One Bite Rule



If the dog has never bitten anyone before and the owner had no reason to believe it was dangerous, it’s up to the victim to prove negligence to recover damages.

If the owner had reason to know that the dog was dangerous, then the owner is strictly liable for the injury caused.

Possible Penalties and Sentencing

Civil Liabilities:

If the owner didn't know the dog was dangerous, they are liable for the percentage they are deemed at fault. There is no liability if the victim is more than 50% at fault. (Texas Civ 33.001)

If the owner had reason to know the dog was vicious, then the owner is liable for all damages caused.

Criminal Penalties:

Criminal negligence or previously determined dangerous dog (Texas H&S 822.05):

  • Felony in the third degree

  • Imprisonment two to 10 years

  • Fine not to exceed $10,000

Attack by a dog determined to be dangerous (Texas H&S 822.044):

  • Class C misdemeanor

  • Fine not to exceed $500

Possible Defenses for a Dog Bite

  • If the dog bite victim is a veterinarian, peace officer, or employed to deal with animals

  • If the dog bite victim is a dog trainer or an employee of a guard dog company

  • If the attack occurred on the dog owner's property

  • If the attack was provoked by the dog bite victim

  • If the attack occurred in the dog's enclosure

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts that include federal decisions, ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Other Important Texas Dog Bite Law Questions

Every dog bite claim is unique, but often, there’s common ground between them. Below are helpful answers for other potential issues in your dog bite case.

Does Texas have a leash law that covers the whole state?

Texas doesn’t have a statewide leash law in place. Since you, as a dog owner, are responsible for anything your dog does while running at large, using a leash is a good idea.

The state allows municipalities to set ordinances for leashes and other issues. For example, in Dallas dogs must either be contained on the owner’s property or a leash unless they are at one of the designated leash-free parks. Dangerous dogs and dogs in heat are not permitted at these parks.

I got nipped by my friend’s dog. Do I have to report the bite?

Friend or not, you’re required by law in Texas to report all animal bites. The first thing to do is seek medical attention, no matter how minor the injury seems. If you can’t see a doctor right away, clean the wound with warm, soapy water.

While the doctor who treats you is also required to report the bite, you should contact the animal control authority in the county or municipality where the dog attack took place. If you’re in Houston, you’d report the animal bite at 713-229-7300.

You should also file a dog bite report with local law enforcement. In addition to alerting them of a potentially dangerous dog, the report gives you documentation for your dog bite claim as you seek damages for your injuries.

I was bitten by a dog at the apartment complex my grandma lives in. Is the landlord liable?

Maybe. Whether the landlord is liable depends on the situation’s details. If the landlord was aware one of their tenants had a dangerous dog, they could be found liable for not having the dog removed. If an attack takes place in a common area, liability is a possibility as well.

The victim has to show that the landlord was negligent. For instance, if an apartment complex has a fenced-in area used as a dog run and a dog bites someone after escaping through a hole in the fence, a case could be made that the landlord is negligent due to not fixing the hole. In instances like this, discussing your case with a knowledgeable dog bite lawyer is a good move.

Research the Law

Texas Dog Bite Laws: Related Resources

Get a Legal Review of Your Texas Dog Bite Situation

If you're bitten by a dog, the first thing you should do is seek medical attention. After that, wading into Texas dog bite laws can be confusing and frustrating. Consider speaking with a Texas animal and dog bite attorney. They can assess your dog bite claim and help you choose the best path forward to recover damages.

A dog can be both your best friend and a family member. Given the stress and uncertainty after your furry buddy attacks someone, having a skilled personal injury defense lawyer in your corner can give you peace of mind and provide the best defense possible.

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