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Adult Symptoms > Bites / Stings > Animal Bite
Animal Bite

DEFINITION

  • Bite or claw wound from a pet, farm or wild animal

General Information

  • Animal bites usually need to be seen by a physician because all bites are contaminated with saliva and are prone to wound infection.
  • If any redness develops around the wound 1-4 days after an animal bite, this usually means that the bite has become infected.
  • Bites on the hands are at increased risk of complications.

Types of Wounds

  • Bruising: There is no break in the skin. No risk of infection.
  • Abrasion or Scratch: Low risk of infection. Antibiotic therapy to prevent infection is not needed.
  • Laceration: Intermediate risk of infection. Wound cleansing and irrigation can help prevent infection by washing out the bacteria from the wound. Sometimes debridement of the wound edges is needed. Antibiotic therapy to prevent infection may be needed.
  • Puncture Wound: Intermediate risk of infection. Puncture wounds from cat bites are especially prone to getting infected; many physicians will prescribe antibiotics for cat bites to try to prevent infection.

Types of Animal Bites

  • Bites From Rabies-Prone Wild Animals: Rabies is a fatal disease. Bites or scratches from a bat, skunk, raccoon, fox, coyote, or other carnivores are especially dangerous. These animals can transmit rabies even if they have no symptoms. Bats have transmitted rabies without a detectable bite mark (MMWR Recomm Rep. 2008 May 23;57:1-28).
  • Small Wild Animal Bites: Rabbits and small rodents (such as squirrels, mice, rats, and chipmunks) rarely become infected with rabies and have not been known to transmit it to humans. These bites can sometimes get infected.
  • Large Pet Animal Bites: Most bites from pets are from dogs or cats. Bites from domestic animals such as horses can be handled using these guidelines. The main risk from pet bites is serious wound infection. Cat bites become infected more often than dog bites. Claw wounds from cats are treated the same as bite wounds, since the claws may be contaminated with saliva. Bites from pet pigs or primates also have a high rate of wound infection. Bites on the hands or feet have a higher risk of infection than bites to other parts of the body.
  • Small Indoor Pet Animal Bites: Small indoor pets (gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, white mice, rats, etc.) are at no risk for rabies. Puncture wounds from these small animals also don't need to be seen. There is only a small risk for developing a wound infection (Reason: the wound infection rate is low because the bites often don't penetrate the dermis)
  • Puppy Teeth and Puncture Wounds: Puncture wounds from puppies usually don't need to be seen because they barely puncture the skin. Puppy teeth are tiny and sharp. They cause shallow punctures that look like “a dot”. They occur commonly in the majority of children and adults who care for a puppy.

Wild Animals at risk for RABIES

  • Bat, skunk, raccoon, fox, coyote
  • Any other large wild animal.

Pet animals at higher risk for RABIES

  • Outdoor pets who are stray, sick or unvaccinated AND living in communities where rabies occurs in pets. You should check with your local Public Health Department about the risk for rabies in your community.
  • Dogs and cats in developing countries.
  • Unprovoked bite.

FIRST AID Advice for Bleeding: Apply direct pressure to the entire wound with a clean cloth.

FIRST AID Advice for all Bites and Scratches: Wash all bite wounds and scratches with soap and warm water.


WHEN TO CALL YOUR DOCTOR

Call 911 Now (you may need an ambulance) If

  • Major bleeding that can't be stopped (see First Aid)

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • You think you have a serious injury
  • Bleeding doesn't stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure (continue pressure until seen by a physician)
  • Any break in skin (e.g., cut, puncture or scratch) caused by a wild animal
  • Any break in skin (e.g., cut, puncture or scratch) caused by a monkey
  • Any break in skin (e.g., cut, puncture or scratch) caused by an animal that may carry rabies
  • Any break in skin (e.g., cut, puncture or scratch) caused by pet animal (e.g., dog, cat)
    Exception: superficial scratches that don't go through the skin or tiny puncture wound
  • Puncture wound (holes through skin) caused by a cat (teeth or claws)
  • Note: For all new bites, see First Aid
  • Bite looks infected (redness, swelling, warmth, tender to touch, or red streaks)

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If

  • You think you need to be seen
  • Your last tetanus shot was more than 10 years ago
  • Suspicious bat exposure (e.g., bat found in same room as sleeping adult) and no bite mark

Self Care at Home If

  • Tiny puncture wound (e.g., from gerbil, mouse, hamster, puppy)
  • Bite that didn't break the skin (i.e., just a bruise)

HOME CARE ADVICE FOR MINOR ANIMAL BITE

Minor Cuts and Scratches and Puncture Wounds

  1. Bleeding: For any bleeding, apply continuous pressure for 10 minutes.
  2. Cleansing: Wash all wounds immediately with soap and water for 5 minutes. Scrub the wound enough to make it re-bleed a little. Also, flush vigorously under a faucet for a few minutes (Reason: can prevent many wound infections).
  3. Antibiotic Ointment: Apply an antibiotic ointment (e.g., Neosporin, Bacitracin) to the bite 3 times a day for three days.
  4. Cleansing: Wash all wounds immediately with soap and water for 5 minutes. Scrub the wound enough to make it re-bleed a little. Also, flush vigorously under a faucet for a few minutes (Reason: can prevent many wound infections).
  5. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Wound begins to look infected (redness, swelling, warmth, tender to touch, or red streaks)
    • You become worse

Minor Bruises

  1. Treating Bruises:
    • Cold Pack for First 48 Hours: For bruises or swelling, apply a cold pack or an ice bag (wrapped in a moist towel) to the area for 20 minutes. Repeat in 1 hour, then as needed for the first 48 hours after the injury (Reason: to reduce the bruising, swelling, and pain).
    • Local Heat After 48 Hours: After 48 hours apply a warm moist washcloth or heating pad for 10 minutes three times a day to help absorb the blood.
  2. Pain Medicines:
    • For pain relief, take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen.
    Acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol):
    • Take 650 mg by mouth every 4-6 hours. Each Regular Strength Tylenol pill has 325 mg of acetaminophen.
    • Another choice is to take 1,000 mg every 8 hours. Each Extra Strength Tylenol pill has 500 mg of acetaminophen.
    • The most you should take each day is 3,000 mg.
    Ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin, Advil):
    • Take 400 mg by mouth every 6 hours.
    • Another choice is to take 600 mg by mouth every 8 hours.
    • Use the lowest amount that makes your pain feel better.
    Naproxen (e.g., Aleve):
    • Take 250-500 mg by mouth every 12 hours.
    • Use the lowest amount that makes your pain feel better.
    Extra Notes:
    • Acetaminophen is thought to be safer than ibuprofen or naproxen in people over 65 years old. Acetaminophen is in many OTC and prescription medicines. It might be in more than one medicine that you are taking. You need to be careful and not take an overdose. An acetaminophen overdose can hurt the liver.
    • Caution: Do not take acetaminophen if you have liver disease.
    • Caution: Do not take ibuprofen or naproxen if you have stomach problems, kidney disease, are pregnant, or have been told by your doctor to avoid this type of medicine. Do not take ibuprofen or naproxen for more than 7 days without consulting your doctor.
    • Before taking any medicine, read all the instructions on the package
  3. Expected Course: Bruises should fade away over 7-14 days.

Who Should Call Animal Control

  1. Canada - Contacting the Public Health Department:
    • Public Health should be notified of any animal bite (or other animal contact) that might result in rabies.
    • If you go to the emergency department or to your doctor; they will call the Local Public Health Department.
    • If not, you should contact local Public Health Department in the area where the bite occurred.
  2. United States - Contacting Animal Control:
    • The local Animal Control Center should be notified of any animal bite (or other animal contact) that might result in rabies.
    • If you go to the emergency department or to your doctor; they will call the Animal Control Center.
    • If not, you should contact the Animal Control Center in the county where the bite occurred.

Reporting Wild Animals and Strays

  1. Canada: You can report the animal to the local medical officer of health and to the
    nearest CFIA veterinarian.
  2. United States: You can report the animal to the animal control center for your
    county.

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.


Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Author and Senior Reviewer: David A. Thompson, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 11/18/2011

Last Revised: 11/23/2011

Content Set: Adult HouseCalls Symptom Checker

Copyright 2000-2012. Self Care Decisions LLC; LMS, Inc.


Additional Resources:

 How to use the Adult Health Topics pages
 When to call the doctor
 Reviewers of Clinical Content

Disclaimer: The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment.

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