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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
Bites from children are:
When you have a bite:
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you
should see a doctor.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
You may need a tetanus shot depending
on how dirty the wound is and how long it has been since your last shot.
With severe bleeding, any of these may
With moderate bleeding, any of these may
With mild bleeding, any of these may be
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Pain in adults and older children
Symptoms of infection may
Based on your answers, you need
Call911or other emergency services now.
Based on your answers, you need
Put direct, steady pressure on the
wound until help arrives. Keep the area raised if you can.
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in adults are:
To clean a wound well:
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:
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.
Stop the bleeding with direct pressure to the wound.
After you have stopped the bleeding, check your
symptoms to determine if and when you need to see your
Clean the animal or human bite as
soon as possible to reduce the chance of infection and scarring.
Some bites cause only bruising (contusions) at the bite site
but do not break the skin. These bites usually do not become infected.
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.
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.
ice or cold pack may help reduce swelling and bruising. Never apply ice
directly to a wound or the skin. This could cause tissue damage.
Elevate the injured area on pillows while applying ice and anytime you
are sitting or lying down. Try to keep the area at or above the level of your
heart to reduce swelling.
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.
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
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.
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
The following tips may help prevent bite
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the
Current as of:
June 4, 2014
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
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