Animal Bite

What do I need to know about an animal bite?

Animal bite injuries range from shallow cuts to deep, life-threatening wounds. An animal can cut or puncture the skin when it bites. Your skin may be torn from your body. Your skin may swell or bruise even if the bite does not break the skin. Animal bites occur more often on the hands, arms, legs, and face. Bites from dogs and cats are the most common injuries.

What does my caregiver need to know about my animal bite?

  • What kind of animal bit you? Is the animal a pet? If so, are its vaccines updated?

  • When and where did the bite happen? Was the animal bothered by you or another person before it bit? Did the animal show any fear?

  • Can the animal be brought in to watch it for sickness or disease?

  • Has the wound been treated? If so, what did you use to treat it?

  • Do you have any health conditions? Do you currently take any medicines? When was your last tetanus shot?

What tests may I need after an animal bite?

Your caregiver will look at how big and deep the bite wounds are. He will ask if any area feels numb. Your caregiver will check how well you can move the bitten area. He will also check for signs of infection. You may also need the following:

  • Blood tests and wound cultures: Your caregiver will collect blood, fluid, or tissue to test for infection.

  • X-ray: This test checks for fractures or objects inside the wound.

How is an animal bite treated?

  • Irrigation: Caregivers use saline (salt water) or germ-killing cleansers to wash out your wound.

  • Debridement: Caregivers cut away damaged, dead, or infected tissue to help your wound heal.

  • Medicines:

    • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.

    • Pain medicine: You may be given medicine to take away or decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine.

    • Tetanus vaccine: A bite wound can cause tetanus. Tetanus is a life-threatening infection that affects the nerves and muscles. You may need a shot to prevent tetanus if you got the vaccine more than 5 years ago.

    • Rabies vaccine: Rabies is a life-threatening infection that is caused by animal bites. The rabies vaccine helps prevent rabies.

  • Stitches: Caregivers may need to close your wound with stitches. This is usually done if the wound is large and is not infected.

  • Surgery: Caregivers may need to repair deeper injuries and severe wounds.

What are the risks of an animal bite?

You may have a scar after the bite heals. You may have long-term problems with numbness or movement where you were bitten. You may develop an infection. An abscess (pus pocket) may form on or near your wound area. The infection may spread to your joints, tendons, or bones. An infection that spreads to the blood is called sepsis and may be life-threatening. You may get tetanus or rabies from the animal bite. This can also be life-threatening.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Apply antibiotic ointment as directed: This helps prevent infection in minor skin wounds. It is available without a doctor's order.

  • Keep the wound clean and covered: Wash the wound every day with soap and water or germ-killing cleanser. Ask your caregiver about the kinds of bandages to use.

  • Ice: Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on your wound for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed.

  • Elevate: Raise your wound above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your wound on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.

How can an animal bite be prevented?

  • Learn to recognize the signs of a scared pet. Avoid quick, sudden movements.

  • Do not step between animals that are fighting.

  • Do not leave a pet alone with a young child.

  • Do not disturb an animal while it eats, sleeps, or cares for its young.

  • Do not approach an animal you do not know, especially one that is tied up or caged.

  • Stay away from animals that seem sick or act strangely.

  • Do not feed or capture wild animals.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your pain does not get better, even after you take pain medicine.

  • You have nightmares or flashbacks about the animal bite.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have a fever.

  • Your wound is red, swollen, and draining pus.

  • You see red streaks on the skin around the wound.

  • You can no longer move the bitten area.

  • Your heartbeat and breathing are much faster than usual.

  • You feel dizzy and confused.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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