Animal Bite

An animal bite can result in a scratch on the skin, deep open cut, puncture of the skin, crush injury, or tearing away of the skin or a body part. Dogs are responsible for most animal bites. Children are bitten more often than adults. An animal bite can range from very mild to more serious. A small bite from your house pet is no cause for alarm. However, some animal bites can become infected or injure a bone or other tissue. You must seek medical care if:

  • The skin is broken and bleeding does not slow down or stop after 15 minutes.

  • The puncture is deep and difficult to clean (such as a cat bite).

  • Pain, warmth, redness, or pus develops around the wound.

  • The bite is from a stray animal or rodent. There may be a risk of rabies infection.

  • The bite is from a snake, raccoon, skunk, fox, coyote, or bat. There may be a risk of rabies infection.

  • The person bitten has a chronic illness such as diabetes, liver disease, or cancer, or the person takes medicine that lowers the immune system.

  • There is concern about the location and severity of the bite.

It is important to clean and protect an animal bite wound right away to prevent infection. Follow these steps:

  • Clean the wound with plenty of water and soap.

  • Apply an antibiotic cream.

  • Apply gentle pressure over the wound with a clean towel or gauze to slow or stop bleeding.

  • Elevate the affected area above the heart to help stop any bleeding.

  • Seek medical care. Getting medical care within 8 hours of the animal bite leads to the best possible outcome.

DIAGNOSIS

Your caregiver will most likely:

  • Take a detailed history of the animal and the bite injury.

  • Perform a wound exam.

  • Take your medical history.

Blood tests or X-rays may be performed. Sometimes, infected bite wounds are cultured and sent to a lab to identify the infectious bacteria.

TREATMENT

Medical treatment will depend on the location and type of animal bite as well as the patient's medical history. Treatment may include:

  • Wound care, such as cleaning and flushing the wound with saline solution, bandaging, and elevating the affected area.

  • Antibiotics.

  • Tetanus immunization.

  • Rabies immunization.

  • Leaving the wound open to heal. This is often done with animal bites, due to the high risk of infection. However, in certain cases, wound closure with stitches, wound adhesive, skin adhesive strips, or staples may be used.

 Infected bites that are left untreated may require intravenous (IV) antibiotics and surgical treatment in the hospital.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Follow your caregiver's instructions for wound care.

  • Take all medicines as directed.

  • If your caregiver prescribes antibiotics, take them as directed. Finish them even if you start to feel better.

  • Follow up with your caregiver for further exams or immunizations as directed.

You may need a tetanus shot if:

  • You cannot remember when you had your last tetanus shot.

  • You have never had a tetanus shot.

  • The injury broke your skin.

If you get a tetanus shot, your arm may swell, get red, and feel warm to the touch. This is common and not a problem. If you need a tetanus shot and you choose not to have one, there is a rare chance of getting tetanus. Sickness from tetanus can be serious.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You notice warmth, redness, soreness, swelling, pus discharge, or a bad smell coming from the wound.

  • You have a red line on the skin coming from the wound.

  • You have a fever, chills, or a general ill feeling.

  • You have nausea or vomiting.

  • You have continued or worsening pain.

  • You have trouble moving the injured part.

  • You have other questions or concerns.

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.