Dog vaccine

Animal bites: what you need to know

An animal bite is a common injury that can lead to serious complications. Dog bites are estimated to account for approximately 1% of all injury-related ER visits in the United States each year. Although most animal bites are not life threatening, they can become dangerous when infected. When this happens, the bacteria can quickly spread to other parts of the body.

It is possible to be bitten by a wild animal, but most animal bites come from an animal you know, such as a pet. Animals tend to bite when they feel stressed or threatened.

This article will describe the different types of animal bites and how to treat them. It will also explain when to see a doctor.

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Why do animals bite?

Animals generally do not bite unless they feel threatened in some way. An animal may bite if it feels stressed, frightened or surprised. They may also bite in an effort to protect something important to them, such as their food. Sick or injured animals are also more likely to bite. Pets playing with you may pinch or bite you slightly.

Different types of animal bites

Animal bites differ depending on the type of animal involved. An animal bite looks like a tear or tear in the skin and is more likely to affect children. Dogs are the most common cause of animal bites. Cats are less likely to bite, but their bites are more prone to infection.

wild animal bite

Bites from wild animals are rare but can be serious. Wild animals generally do not approach people unless they feel threatened or are sick. A wild animal bite can come from a bat, raccoon, skunk, or fox.

If you have been bitten by a wild animal, rabies is a concern. Although incredibly rare, it is possible to become infected with rabies from an animal bite.

dog bite

Dog bites are the most common type of animal bite and usually occur with a dog you know. Dog bites are estimated to account for 85-90% of all animal bites in the United States. The majority of dog bites happen to children.

When a dog bites the skin, its small front teeth usually tear the skin. This results in an open wound with jagged edges.

cat bite

Although cat bites are not as common as dog bites, they can be more dangerous. This is because the teeth of cats are longer and sharper than those of dogs. This leads to a deeper cut and an increased risk of infection. This is of particular concern in an older cat, as parts of their teeth may break off in the wound.

If you are concerned that you have developed an infection from an animal bite, contact your health care provider immediately.

Symptoms

Symptoms of an animal bite include:

  • Broken or torn skin
  • Puncture wound
  • Pain
  • bruises
  • Tendon or joint injury

What causes an animal bite infection?

Each time the skin barrier is broken, the risk of infection increases. An animal bite can quickly lead to infection due to bacteria in the animal’s mouth which are then introduced into the skin.

It is estimated that around 50% of dog bites infect the body with bacteria like staphylococcus, streptococcus, Pastoral, and capnocytophage. Wild and unvaccinated animals can also carry the rabies virus.

Rage

Rabies is a serious viral infection in certain warm-blooded animals. Once symptoms of rabies are present in an adult or child, the virus is almost always fatal. If you have been bitten by an unfamiliar animal, it is essential that you speak with your health care provider about your risk of rabies. It is possible to prevent rabies after an animal bite through vaccination.

Cats are the pets most frequently affected by rabies. Raccoons, bats and skunks are the most common wild animals.

When to Seek Medical Care

Never hesitate to contact your healthcare provider after an animal bite. Consult a doctor if you or your child is bitten by a wild animal, a stray animal, or an unfamiliar pet.

Other times to see a doctor include:

  • The bite is on your face, head, neck, hand or feet
  • The bleeding won’t stop
  • The wound is deep
  • You can see exposed muscles or bones
  • There are signs of infection such as redness, swelling, increased pain or pus coming from the wound
  • You have a fever
  • More than 10 years have passed since your last tetanus shot
  • You don’t know if the animal has been vaccinated against rabies

If the animal’s bite won’t stop bleeding, keep continuous pressure on it as you walk to the emergency room or urgent care clinic.

If you or your child have been bitten by an animal that is behaving in a strange way, seek medical attention immediately and call animal control or your local police.

Diagnostic

To diagnose an animal bite, your healthcare provider will perform a thorough history and physical exam. This will help them determine your risk of infection and the treatments needed. Your healthcare provider will ask you several questions, including:

  • What kind of animal bit you?
  • Do you know if this animal has been vaccinated against rabies?
  • How did the bite happen?
  • How did you clean the wound?
  • Did you apply antibiotic ointment?
  • Was the animal acting strange or aggressive?
  • When were you last vaccinated against tetanus?

Processing

To treat an animal bite at home, wash it immediately with soap and water. Rinse the wound for at least 3-5 minutes. If the wound is bleeding, put firm pressure on it with gauze. Once the bleeding has stopped, apply antibiotic cream or ointment to a clean dressing and cover the wound.

If the wound seems deep or won’t stop bleeding, you may need stitches. This is especially true for animal bites on the face.

Your health care provider may recommend that you take antibiotic medicine to prevent infection after a bite. Animal bites on the hand and fingers are most likely to cause infection. Giving antibiotics to patients with hand injuries can reduce the risk of infection from 28% to 2%.

Prevention

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help prevent animal bites. Since most animal bites occur in children, it is important to teach them how to protect themselves from animals. Explain that it is never okay to approach an unfamiliar animal. Do not leave children alone with any animal, even a pet. Teach children to avoid touching an animal’s face and never to tease a pet.

Never approach a wild animal, especially if it is behaving strangely or aggressively. Do not try to separate fighting animals.

To reduce the risk of your dog biting someone, make sure they are trained and socialized. Socializing a dog from an early age reduces the chances of it being scared and biting out of fear.

Finally, make sure your family and pets are up to date with their vaccinations.

Summary

Animal bites are a relatively common injury that can lead to serious infection. Although it is possible to be bitten by a wild animal, most animal bites come from a known animal such as a pet. Animals tend to bite when they feel stressed or threatened in some way. The best way to avoid animal bites is to never approach an unfamiliar animal and to refrain from teasing or playing too rough with a pet.

A word from Verywell

Being bitten or seeing your child bitten by an animal is a frightening experience. Fortunately, most animal bites heal on their own and do not cause complications. If you have been bitten and are concerned that the wound may become infected, see your health care provider immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take for an animal bite infection to go away?

    The duration of an animal bite infection depends on several factors. If the infection has spread to the blood or other parts of the body, healing may take months.

  • How painful is an animal bite?

    An animal bite can be quite painful depending on its severity. If your pain seems uncontrollable, seek immediate medical attention.

  • Which animal has the strongest bite?

    Cat bites tend to be deeper than dog bites because their teeth are longer and sharper.