Discusses what to do for animal or human bites. Covers puncture wounds, cuts, scrapes, and crushing injuries. Covers bites by adults and kids, dogs and cats, and wild animals. Covers home treatment. Includes tool to help you decide when to call a doctor.
Animal and Human Bites
Animal and human bites may cause puncture
wounds, cuts, scrapes, or crushing injuries. Most animal and human bites cause
minor injuries, and home treatment is usually all that is needed to care for
Most animal bites occur in school-age
children. The face, hands, arms, and legs are the most common sites for animal
bites. Since most bites occur in children, be sure to teach children to
be careful around animals and that an animal could hurt them. Young children
should always be supervised around animals.
Dog bites occur more than any other animal bite and are most
frequent in the summer months. The dog is usually known to the person, and most
injuries result from the dog being teased or bothered while eating or sleeping.
Boys are bitten about twice as often as girls. The arms, head, and neck are the
most likely areas to be bitten in children.
Cat bites usually cause deeper puncture wounds than dog bites
and have a high risk of bacterial infection because they can be hard to
Exotic pet bites, such as from rats,
mice, or gerbils, may carry illnesses, but
rabies is not usually a concern. The bites from some
pets, such as iguanas, are at risk for infection but do not carry other serious
Livestock, such as horses, cows, and
sheep, have powerful jaws and can cause crushing bite injuries. Infection,
tetanus, and rabies are possible risks.
Wild animal bites may occur while hunting,
camping, or hiking. Infection, tetanus, and rabies are possible risks.
Adult bites that cause a wound to the
hand can be serious. A clenched fist striking another person in the mouth and
teeth can cut or puncture the skin over the knuckles. This is commonly called a
"fight bite." Underlying tissues may be damaged, and an infection can
pieces of dirt or debris from the wound with cleaned tweezers. Do not push the
tweezers deeply into the wound.
Hold the wound under cool running
water. If you have a sprayer in your sink, you can use it to help remove dirt
and other debris from the wound.
Scrub gently with water, a mild
soap, and a washcloth.
If some dirt or other debris is still in
the wound, clean it again.
If the wound starts to bleed, put
direct, steady pressure on it.
If a chemical has caused a wound or burn, follow the instructions on the chemical's container or call Poison Control (1-800-222-1222) to find out what to do. Most chemicals should be rinsed off with lots of water, but with some chemicals, water may make the burn worse.
Rabies may be a concern after an
animal bite if:
The animal that bit you was acting strangely or
foaming at the mouth.
The animal attacked you for no clear reason.
The animal cannot be watched for signs of rabies.
were bitten while you were in a foreign country or in the wilderness.
You may need a tetanus shot depending
on how dirty the wound is and how long it has been since your last shot.
For a dirty wound that has
things like dirt, saliva, or feces in it, you may need a shot if:
You haven't had a tetanus shot in the past 5
You don't know when your last shot was.
For a clean wound, you may
need a shot if:
You have not had a tetanus shot in the past 10
You don't know when your last shot was.
With severe bleeding, any of these may
Blood is pumping from the wound.
bleeding does not stop or slow down with pressure.
Blood is quickly soaking through bandage after bandage.
With moderate bleeding, any of these may
The bleeding slows or stops with pressure but
starts again if you remove the pressure.
The blood may soak through
a few bandages, but it is not fast or out of control.
With mild bleeding, any of these may be
The bleeding stops on its own or with
The bleeding stops or slows to an ooze or trickle after
15 minutes of pressure. It may ooze or trickle for up to 45 minutes.
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Severe pain (8 to 10): The
pain is so bad that the baby cannot sleep, cannot get comfortable, and cries
constantly no matter what you do. The baby may kick, make fists, or
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The baby is
very fussy, clings to you a lot, and may have trouble sleeping but responds
when you try to comfort him or her.
Mild pain (1 to 4): The baby is a little fussy and clings to you a little but responds
when you try to comfort him or her.
Pain in adults and older children
Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain
is so bad that you can't stand it for more than a few hours, can't sleep, and
can't do anything else except focus on the pain.
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt your
normal activities and your sleep, but you can tolerate it for hours or days.
Moderate can also mean pain that comes and goes even if it's severe when it's
Mild pain (1 to 4): You notice the pain,
but it is not bad enough to disrupt your sleep or activities.
Symptoms of infection may
Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness in or
around the area.
Red streaks leading from the area.
Pus draining from the area.
Try Home Treatment
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Try home treatment to relieve the
Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any
concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect).
You may need care sooner.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Your age. Babies and older
adults tend to get sicker quicker.
Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart
disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care
Medicines you take. Certain
medicines, herbal remedies, and supplements can cause symptoms or make them
Recent health events, such as surgery
or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them
Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug
use, sexual history, and travel.
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
You may feel a little out of breath but still be able to talk (mild difficulty breathing), or you may be so out of breath that you cannot talk at all (severe difficulty breathing).
It may be getting hard to breathe with activity (mild difficulty breathing), or you may have to work very hard to breathe even when you’re at rest (severe difficulty breathing).
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in adults are:
Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease,
Long-term alcohol and drug
Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for
Other medicines used to treat autoimmune
Medicines taken after organ transplant.
having a spleen.
Minor animal and human bites
usually can be treated at home. If you do not have an increased chance of
getting an infection, do not have other injuries, and do not need treatment by
a doctor or a tetanus shot, you can clean and bandage a bite at home.
After you have stopped the bleeding, check your
symptoms to determine if and when you need to see your
Clean the wound
Clean the animal or human bite as
soon as possible to reduce the chance of infection and scarring.
Wash the wound for 5 minutes with large amounts
of cool water and soap (mild dishwashing soap, such as Ivory, works well). Some nonprescription products are available for wound
cleaning that numb the area so cleaning doesn't hurt as much. Be sure to read
the product label for correct use.
Don't use rubbing alcohol,
hydrogen peroxide, iodine, or Mercurochrome, which can harm the tissue and slow
Some bites cause only bruising (contusions) at the bite site
but do not break the skin. These bites usually do not become infected.
Stitches, staples, or skin adhesives (also called liquid skin)
Determine whether your bite needs to be treated by a doctor.
Bites may need to be closed with sutures, staples, or skin adhesives so that
they won't leave a large scar. Bites to the hand are not usually closed because
closing the bite wound may increase your chance of having an infection. Cat
bites are rarely closed because they are usually no larger than a puncture.
will tell you how to
take care of your stitches or staples and when to
return to have them removed.
Skin adhesives usually do not need to be removed, but your doctor may wish to
see you to check on the wound. Be sure to carefully follow your doctor's
instructions. If you are unsure of how to care for your wound or have
questions, call your doctor for instructions.
Consider applying a bandage
Most bites heal well and
may not need a bandage. You may need to protect the bite from dirt and
irritation. Be sure to clean the bite thoroughly before bandaging it to
reduce the risk of infection occurring under the bandage.
Select the bandage carefully. There are many
products available. Do not use liquid skin bandages and moisture-enhancing
bandages unless your doctor tells you to. These types of dressings may seal in
bacteria that could cause an infection.
If you use a cloth-like
bandage, apply a clean bandage when your bandage gets wet or soiled. If a
bandage is stuck to a scab, soak it in warm water to soften the scab and make
the bandage easier to remove. If available, use a nonstick dressing. There are
many bandage products available. Be sure to read the product label for correct
signs of infection. If an infection develops under a
bandage, a visit to your doctor may be needed.
ointment, such as polymyxin B sulfate (for example, Polysporin) or bacitracin,
will keep the bandage from sticking to the wound. Apply the ointment lightly to
the wound. Antibiotic ointments have not been shown to improve healing. Be sure
to read the product label about skin sensitivity. If a skin rash or itching
under the bandage develops, stop using the ointment. The rash may be caused by
allergic reaction to the ointment.
adhesive strip to hold the edges of a wound together. Always put an adhesive
strip across a wound to hold the edges together, not lengthwise. You can
make a butterfly bandage at home or purchase one to help hold the skin edges
Aspirin (also a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug), such as Bayer or Bufferin
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow
these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Carefully read and follow all
directions on the medicine bottle and box.
Many states require that animal
control authorities be notified of animal bites. Even if your state law does
not require you to report animal bites, you may wish to call animal control to
report the bite. They can help you determine whether the animal that bit
Has been properly vaccinated.
to be observed for signs of illness. A healthy pet that has bitten someone
should be confined and observed for 10 days to see whether it develops symptoms
Is a rabies carrier in your area and whether you need to
be vaccinated to prevent
Is a danger to others.
If you are unable to find a phone number for animal control
in the front pages of the telephone book, contact the police or sheriff's
office for the number.
The following tips may help prevent bite
Do not disturb animals, even your family pets,
while they are eating, sleeping, or nursing. Animal mothers can be very
aggressive when protecting their young.
Never leave a young child
or baby alone with a pet.
Do not approach or play with unfamiliar
or stray pets.
Teach children to ask permission from a pet's owner
before petting the animal. Do not pet an animal without first letting it sniff
Don't run past a dog, because dogs naturally love to chase and
Many animals give a warning sign before they attack.
If you have animals in your home, know their warning signs and teach them to
Do not try to separate fighting animals. If
available, water sprayed from a hose will often break up the
If you see a threatening dog:
Stay still. Do not run.
make direct eye contact with the dog or stare at the dog. Staring at a dog may
be interpreted by the dog as a threat and aggression.
If you say anything, speak calmly and firmly.
If you fall or are
knocked to the ground, curl into a ball with your hands over your head and
neck. Protect your face.
Notify animal control and, if possible,
speak with the dog's owners.
Tell children to report an animal bite to an
Do not keep wild animals as pets.
not touch or tease wild animals.
Do not handle sick or injured
animals or animals that are acting strangely.
Get help from animal
control personnel if you need to rescue a trapped or injured animal. If no help
is available, wear the heaviest gloves and clothing you have. Do not move
quickly when approaching the animal, and talk in a low, gentle voice to
reassure the animal.
Choose and care for your pets wisely
Do not buy a pet on impulse. Do some research
and learn about how different types of pets act and what their needs are. Ask a
veterinarian or your local humane society for more
Keep your animals healthy. Regular examinations and
vaccinations are important for their health and for yours.
Vaccinate pets against rabies and other
Promote attitudes of animal love and respect. Do not
tolerate any form of animal abuse or cruelty.
dogs. If you have children, involve them in the training so they can handle and
learn respect for their companion animals. Keep pets on a leash in public
Do not allow your pets to roam free. Fence your yard, and
keep your pets on a leash in public areas.
Contact your local
humane society or shelter about workshops for your school or service group that
teach about animal care.
Teach your child not to bite. Biting most commonly occurs when
many children are together, such as in child care centers. Most of the time,
biting can be reduced by proper supervision and by helping children express
their feelings in more appropriate ways. For more information, see the topic
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.