An animal bite can be quite painful depending on how severe it is. If your pain feels out of control, seek medical treatment right away.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help prevent animal bites. Because most animal bites happen to children, it’s important to teach them how to be safe around animals. Explain that it is never okay to approach an unknown animal. Do not leave children alone with an animal, even a pet. Teach kids to avoid touching an animal’s face and to never tease a pet.
Never approach a wild animal, especially if it is behaving strangely or aggressively. Do not try to separate animals that are fighting.
To reduce the risk of your dog biting anyone, make sure they are trained and socialized. Socializing a dog from the time they are young reduces the chances of them becoming scared and biting out of fear.
Finally, make sure that both your family and your pets are up to date on their vaccinations.
To treat an animal bite at home, immediately wash it with soap and water. Rinse the wound for at least 3 to 5 minutes. If the wound is bleeding, hold firm pressure on it with gauze. Once the bleeding has stopped, apply antibiotic cream or ointment to a clean bandage and cover the wound.
If the wound seems deep or will not stop bleeding, you may need stitches. This is especially true for animal bites on the face.
Your healthcare provider may recommend taking an antibiotic medication to prevent infection after a bite. Animal bites on the hand and fingers are the most at risk of leading to infection. Giving antibiotics to patients with a hand-wound can lower the risk of infection from 28% to 2%.
To diagnose an animal bite, your healthcare provider will conduct a thorough history and physical exam. This will help them to determine your infection risk and which treatments are needed. Your healthcare provider will ask several questions including:6
- What kind of animal bit you?
- Do you know if this animal has been vaccinated against rabies?
- How did the bite happen?
- How did you clean the wound?
- Did you apply an antibiotic ointment?
- Was the animal acting strangely or aggressively?
- When was your last tetanus shot?
Never hesitate to contact your healthcare provider after an animal bite. Seek medical care if you or your child are bitten by a wild animal, a stray, or a pet that you do not know.
Other times to seek medical care include:
- The bite is on your face, head, neck, hand, or feet
- The bleeding will not stop
- The wound is deep
- You can see muscle or bone exposed
- There are signs of infection such as redness, swelling, increasing pain, or pus coming from the wound
- You have a fever
- It has been more than 10 years since your last tetanus shot
- You are unsure if the animal has been vaccinated against rabies
If the animal bite will not stop bleeding, hold continuous pressure on it while making your way to the emergency room or urgent care clinic.
Any time the skin barrier is broken, the risk of infection increases. An animal bite can quickly lead to an infection because of bacteria found in the animal’s mouth that is then introduced into the skin.
It’s estimated that about 50% of dog bites infect the body with bacteria like staphylococcus, streptococcus, Pasteurella, and capnocytophaga. Wild and unvaccinated animals can carry the rabies virus as well.
Symptoms of an animal bite include:
- Broken or torn skin
- Puncture wound
- Tendon or joint injury
While cat bites are not nearly as common as dog bites, they can be more dangerous. This is because cats’ teeth are longer and sharper than dogs’. This leads to a deeper cut and an increased risk of infection. This is especially concerning in an older cat because parts of their teeth may break off in the wound.
Dog bites are the most common type of animal bite and usually occur with a dog that is known to you. It’s estimated that dog bites account for 85% to 90% of all animal bites in the United States. The majority of dog bites happen to children.
When a dog bites the skin, its small front teeth usually cause tears in the skin. This results in an open wound with jagged edges.
Animal bites differ based on the type of animal that is involved. An animal bite looks like a break or tear in the skin and is most likely to happen to children. Dogs are the most common cause of animal bites. Cats are less likely to bite, but their bites are more prone to infection.
Wild Animal Bite
Wild animal bites are rare but can be serious. Wild animals usually do not approach people unless they feel threatened or are sick. A wild animal bite could come from a bat, raccoon, skunk, or fox.
If you have been bitten by a wild animal, then rabies is a concern. While incredibly rare, it is possible to be infected with rabies from an animal bite.