Animal bites: First aid
Medically reviewed on October 26, 2017
These guidelines can help you care for a minor animal bite, such as one that only breaks the skin:
- Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water.
- Apply an antibiotic cream and cover the bite with a clean bandage.
Seek prompt medical care if:
- The wound is a deep puncture or you're not sure how serious it is.
- The skin is badly torn, crushed or bleeding significantly — first apply pressure with a bandage or clean cloth to stop the bleeding.
- You notice increasing swelling, redness, pain or oozing, which are warning signs of infection.
You have questions about your risk of rabies or about rabies prevention. If the bite was caused by a cat or a dog, try to confirm that the animal's rabies vaccination is up to date. If the bite was caused by a wild animal, seek advice from your doctor about which animals are most likely to carry rabies.
Bats often carry rabies and can infect humans without leaving obvious signs of a bite. This is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people in contact with bats — or even those who are sleeping and awaken to find a bat in the bedroom — seek medical advice about rabies shots, even if they don't think they've been bitten.
- You haven't had a tetanus shot in the past 10 years — or five years if the wound is deep or dirty. You may need a booster shot.