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Animal Bite

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jun 6, 2022.

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 healthcare provider 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 healthcare provider will look at how big and deep the bite wounds are. He will ask if any area feels numb. Your healthcare provider 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 a sample of fluid or tissue from your wound may show if you have an infection.
  • An x-ray may show fractures or foreign objects in your wound.

How is an animal bite treated?

  • Irrigation and debridement may be needed to clean out your wound. Dead, damaged, or infected tissue may be cut away to help your wound heal.
  • Medicines:
    • Antibiotics prevent or treat a bacterial infection.
    • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask how to take this medicine safely.
    • A tetanus vaccine may be needed to prevent tetanus. Tetanus is a life-threatening bacterial infection that affects the nerves and muscles. The bacteria can be spread through animal bites.
    • A rabies vaccine may be needed to prevent rabies. Rabies is a life-threatening viral infection. The virus can be spread through animal bites.
  • Stitches may be needed if your wound is large and not infected.
  • Surgery may be needed to repair deep injuries or severe wounds.

What can I do to 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 healthcare provider about the kinds of bandages to use.
  • Apply ice on your wound. 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 the wound area. 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.

What can I do to prevent an animal bite?

  • 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 seek immediate care?

  • 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.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • 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.

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 healthcare providers 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.

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Further information

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