First aid : Bites

Many different types of animals ranging from dogs, cats, hamsters, raccoons, ferrets, and squirrels can bite adults and children. Many times, bites are from the family pet.

Most states require that animal bites be reported, therefore, the person bitten will be asked to fill out a form with information about the bite or asked specific questions for reporting purposes when medical care is sought. Aside from simple data collection, this can be important in cases of rabies cases to help officials track location(s) and monitor a possible spread of the disease.

Animal Bite Causes

Animal bites usually are either provoked or unprovoked. A provoked bite would occur if a person teases a dog or tries to take away the dog's food while the dog is eating. An unprovoked bite may occur if the person are sitting in their backyard and a raccoon runs out of the woods and attacks them for no known reason. A stray dog that approaches a person and begins to bite them would be considered unprovoked. This type of information is very important to health care professional taking care of the bite beside in certain animal species "unprovoked" bites can be a sign or indicator that the animal has rabies and needs to be either captured, quarantined or very closely monitored. 

Animal Bite First Aid

First aid should consist of getting away from the animal to a safe area. Next, apply pressure on the areas that are bleeding, and activate the call system or going to an emergency department if the injury requires care.

Animal Bite Symptoms

Although most bites need to be checked by a doctor, if the person who was bitten does not seek immediate attention after the bite has occurred, watch closely for signs and symptoms of infection. These symptoms may signal there is infection or debris still in the wound (such as teeth, clothes, or dirt):

  • Redness at or around the bite site
  • Swelling
  • Pus (thick) drainage from the wound
  • Increasing pain
  • Localized warmth at the bite site
  • Red streaks leading away from the site of the bite
  • Fever

When to Seek Medical Care

Most animal bites should be evaluated in a doctor's office, at a walk-in clinic, or in a hospital's emergency department for these reasons:

  • The risk of infection
  • Broken or embedded teeth (cats) or other foreign material in the wound (which will cause an infection)
  • Possible underlying nerve and blood vessel damage
  • Risk of tetanus if the person's immunizations are not up to date
  • The consideration of risk of rabies, depending on the animal and circumstances of the bite

These types of bites pose the highest risk of infection and therefore require prompt evaluation:

  • Dog bites because of the crushing mechanism of the bite
  • Cat bites because of the puncture mechanism of the bite
  • Wild animal bites (from raccoons, for example) and dog or cat bites (pets may have themselves been bitten by stray animals) because of the risk of contracting rabies

Certain bite wounds require immediate attention:

  • Bite caused by a wild animal or a stray dog or cat
  • Possibility of teeth, dirt, or other matter in the wound
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Weakness or numbness of the area or another area away from the bite.
  • Any other symptoms or concern that the person bitten may have regarding a bite wound 

Animal Bite Treatment

The treatment of animal bites, after initial inspection, irrigation, debridement, and possibly closure depends on many factors, the doctor's experience, preference, and the type of wound and location of the wound.

Animal Bite Self-Care at Home

Thoroughly clean the wound by washing with soap and tap water as soon as possible. Never use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide on a wound. While hydrogen peroxide was used for years, medical studies have shown that it is harmful to a wound and slows or inhibits the healing process. A light scrubbing should occur during the wash. Then put a clean and dry bandage over the area. This treatment should not replace proper evaluation by a doctor. 

Depending on the status of the bite wound, local wound care varies.

If the wound was sutured on the first visit, then the wound should be kept clean and dry. Showers are permitted, but the area should be dried by patting it softly to avoid disrupting the sutures. No baths or submersion of a sutured wound should occur until the stitches are removed and the patient it told it is allowed.

If the wound was left open, then the doctor may recommend daily soaks or other treatments.

  • For minor wounds. If the bite barely breaks the skin and there's no danger of rabies, treat it as a minor wound. Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water. Apply an antibiotic cream to prevent infection and cover the bite with a clean bandage.
  • For deep wounds. If the animal bite creates a deep puncture of the skin or the skin is badly torn and bleeding, apply pressure with a clean, dry cloth to stop the bleeding and see your doctor.
  • For infection. If you notice signs of infection, such as swelling, redness, increased pain or oozing, see your doctor immediately.
  • For suspected rabies. If you suspect the bite was caused by an animal that might carry rabies — including any wild or domestic animal of unknown immunization status, particularly bats — see your doctor immediately.

Animal Bites Follow-up

When the patient is discharged from the emergency department or leaves the doctor's office, they should receive instructions on how to care for the bite wound.

Most doctors will recommend a reevaluation of bites in 48 hours to look for infection.

If the wound was sutured (stitches), the doctor will tell the patient when the stitches will need to be removed.

  • Typically stitches in the face are removed in 3 to 5 days.
  • Stitches over major joints stay in 10 to 14 days.
  • Stitches in other areas are removed in 7 to 10 days.

First aid video for dog or cat

First aid video for bites and stings