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Animal Bites

An animal bite is a wound caused by the teeth of an animal. The teeth puncture, tear, scratch, bruise, or crush the person's tissue. The injury can damage skin, nerves, bone, muscle, blood vessels, or joints.

Most bites occur when an animal has been provoked. Animals with rabies bite without being provoked.

Risk Factors:
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Most bites occur in children and young adults. Males are affected more often than females. Bites happen more frequently in warmer weather.

Symptoms of a bite include pain and bleeding.

Wounds may become infected due to the bacteria normally found in the animal's mouth, or from microbes on the skin or in the environment. Symptoms of infection include:

  • Redness around the wound
  • Pain
  • Warmth
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Pus oozing from the wound
  • Fever
The doctor will ask about how the bite occurred, the animal that inflicted the bite, and your medical history. The doctor will examine the wound and assess for damage to any nearby muscles, tendons, nerves, or bones. If the wound appears infected, the doctor may use a sterile swab to remove a sample for testing.

Other tests may include:

  • X-Rays – to check for broken bones
  • CT Scan – to assess for head injuries in young children with scalp wounds
Treatment aims to promote healing, decrease the risk of infection, and prevent complications. If your dog bit you and it has had all its vaccinations, you may be able to treat a minor wound yourself. However, call your provider for medical advice. Receiving any necessary medical care within the first 24 hours decreases the chance of infection.

Seek medical care in these situations:

  • Bite from any wild animal (though bites from rabbits and rodents – squirrels, mice, rats – are quite unlikely to cause rabies)
  • Cat or human bites (these are particularly prone to developing rapid and serious infection)
  • The wound is deep or large
  • The wound appears to be infected
  • It has been five or more years since your last tetanus shot

Regardless of the severity of the bite, see a doctor if you have a chronic medical condition, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Liver disease
  • Heart or lung disease
  • Arthritis or lupus
  • Poor circulation
  • Cancer
  • Immune system deficiency
  • Wash the wound with soap and water for at least five minutes.
  • Apply pressure with a clean towel to stop the bleeding.
  • If bleeding does not stop within 15 minutes, seek immediate medical care.
  • Place a sterile bandage on the open area.
  • Elevate the wound, keeping the area above the level of your heart to decrease swelling.
  • Keep the bandage clean and dry.
  • Check the wound regularly for signs of infection.
Medical Care:
A health care provider can clean the wound, washing the tissue with large amounts of fluid. Debris and dead tissue can be removed. The wound may or may not be closed with stitches. It often is kept open to decrease the risk of infection. After 24 hours, the doctor may use adhesive strips to bring the edges of the wound closer together. Antibiotics may be ordered and a tetanus shot may be given.

If the identity of the biting animal is unknown and it cannot be monitored for rabies, you may need to receive treatment to prevent this life-threatening disease. For hand wounds, a splint may be ordered to keep the hand from moving. Expect to follow up with the doctor in one or two days.

To avoid being bitten by an animal:
  • Supervise children's interactions with animals. Teach children to respect animals and not put their faces close to a pet. No teasing or tail pulling.
  • Do not pet or play with sick or strange animals.
  • Do not run past a dog.
  • If a dog approaches you, stay calm and let it sniff you. Do not make eye contact. Wait until the dog leaves or slowly back away. If you are knocked to the ground, roll into a ball and protect your head and neck with your hands.
  • Carefully select pets. People with children should look for animals with an easy-going temperament.
  • Socialize and train your pet.
  • Do not bother an animal that is eating or sleeping.
  • Do not try to separate animals that are fighting.
  • Do not wrestle with or promote aggression in your dog.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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