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Animal Bite

Is this your symptom?

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

Some Basics...

  • Animal bites can cause many different types of wounds. Bites can cause bruises, scratches, cuts, and puncture wounds.
  • Animal bites are very dirty and can get infected. If there is redness around the bite wound after 1-4 days, this most often means it is infected. Bites on the hands are more likely to get infected. Cat bites and scratches often become infected.
  • Some animals can carry rabies. This is a virus that can be very serious. Infected animals can give rabies to people by biting them. Any person with a bite from an animal that might have rabies should see a doctor.
  • An animal bite that breaks the skin has a risk of tetanus. If it has been more than 5 years since the last shot, a tetanus booster is needed.
  • A person with an animal bite that breaks the skin will most likely need to see a doctor.

Types of Wounds

  • Bruising: with a bruise, there is no break in the skin. There is no risk of infection.
  • Scratch: low chance of infection. Antibiotic drugs are not needed.
  • Cut: some chance of infection. Cleaning the wound can help prevent this. Antibiotic drugs may be needed.
  • Puncture Wound: greater chance of infection. Cat bites are more likely to get infected. Antibiotic drugs may be needed.

Types of Animal Bites

Bites from wild animals are usually more serious.

  • Some wild animals can have rabies. Rabies is a disease that can kill people. Bites or scratches from a bat, skunk, raccoon, fox, or coyote could have rabies. These animals may have no signs of rabies but can still give it to people.
  • Rabbits, squirrels, mice, rats, and chipmunks will not give people rabies. Their bites can still get infected.

People can also get bitten by pet animals.

  • Small pets (gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, mice, rats) do not have rabies. Bites from small pets usually do not break the skin. Most often, a person does not need to see a doctor for these bites.
  • Large pets, like cats or dogs, can bite deeper. These bites are more likely to get infected. Cat scratches can get infected just like a bite because cats lick their claws. Puncture wounds from puppies often do not need to be seen by a doctor. Puppy teeth are tiny and barely break the skin.

What Animals Can Carry Rabies?

  • Bat, skunk, raccoon, fox, or coyote
  • Other large wild animals
  • Pets that have never had rabies shots
  • Outdoor animals who are sick or stray
  • Dogs or cats from countries that do not require rabies shots

When to Call for Animal Bite

Call 911 Now

  • Major bleeding (nonstop bleeding or spurting)
  • You think you have a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Bleeding that won't stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure
  • Any puncture wound (holes through skin) by a cat's teeth or claws
  • Any cut, puncture, or scratch by a pet that breaks the skin
  • Any cut, puncture, or scratch by a wild animal that breaks the skin
  • Bite looks infected (spreading redness, red streaks, swelling, or tender to touch)
  • Fever
  • You think you have a serious injury
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Last tetanus shot was more than 5 years ago
  • May have been bitten by a bat (woke up with a bat in room and no bite mark)
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Bite is tiny such as from a gerbil, mouse, hamster, or puppy
  • Bite did not break the skin or is only a bruise
  • Minor scratches from a pet

Care Advice

Minor Cuts, Scratches, and Puncture Wounds

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Animal bites may cause bruises, scratches, cuts, or puncture wounds.
    • Animal bites are very dirty and can get infected. If there is redness around the bite wound after 1-4 days, this most often means it is infected. Bites on the hands are more likely to get infected. Cat bites and scratches often become infected.
    • You can treat minor animal bites at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Bleeding:
    • Put a gauze pad or clean cloth on top of the wound.
    • Press down on the place that is bleeding with your fingers.
    • This is called using direct pressure. It is the best way to stop bleeding.
  3. Cleansing: Wash all bites and scratches right away with soap and water for 5 minutes. Scrub enough to make it re-bleed a little. Rinse it with running water for a few minutes to avoid infection.
  4. Antibiotic Ointment: Put an antibiotic ointment (Neosporin, Bacitracin) on the bite 3 times a day for 3 days.
  5. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Bite looks infected (spreading redness, red streaks, swelling, or tender to touch)
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Minor Bruises

  1. Treating Bruises:
    • Cold Pack: For pain or swelling, use a cold pack or ice wrapped in a wet cloth. Put it on the bite for 20 minutes. Repeat 4 times a day on the first day, then as needed.
    • Local Heat:
      • If pain lasts over 2 days, apply heat to the bite. Use a heat pack, heating pad, or warm wet washcloth. Do this for 10 minutes, then as needed.
      • For widespread stiffness, take a hot bath or hot shower instead. Move the bite under the warm water.
  2. Pain Medicine:
    • You can take one of the following drugs if you have pain: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
    • They are over-the-counter (OTC) pain drugs. You can buy them at the drugstore.
    • Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your pain feel better.
    • Acetaminophen is safer than ibuprofen or naproxen in people over 65 years old.
    • Read the instructions and warnings on the package insert for all medicines you take.
  3. What to Expect: Bruises should go away over 7-14 days.

When to Call Animal Control

  1. All Bites From Animals That Might Have Rabies:
    • The Animal Control Center needs to know about 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 for you.
    • If you do not go to the doctor, you should call the Animal Control Center and tell them about the bite.
  2. Wild Animals and Strays:
    • You can report the animal to your local Animal Control Center.

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

Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.


Last Reviewed: 5/23/2019 1:00:20 AM
Last Updated: 3/14/2019 1:00:22 AM

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