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First aid

Animal bite

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Laceration - Arm (Dog Bite)
Laceration - Arm (Dog Bite)

Scratches from a Cat
Scratches from a Cat

  • Bite or claw wound from a pet, farm or wild animal

General Information

  • Animal bites usually need to be seen by a physician because all bites are contaminated with saliva and are prone to wound infection.
  • Bites from Rabies-Prone Wild Animals: Rabies is a fatal disease.  Bites or scratches from a bat, skunk, raccoon, fox, coyote, or large wild animal are especially dangerous. These animals can transmit rabies even if they have no symptoms. Bats have transmitted rabies without a detectable bite mark.
  • Small Wild Animal Bites: Small animals such as mice, rats, moles, gophers, chipmunks, and rabbits fortunately are considered to be free of rabies. Squirrels may rarely carry rabies, but have not transmitted it to humans. These bites can sometimes get infected.
  • Large Pet Animal Bites: Most pet bites are from dogs or cats. In most metro areas in the U.S. and Canada, the main risk from pet bites is serious wound infection, not rabies. Cat bites become infected more often than dog bites. Claw wounds from cats are treated the same as bite wounds, since the claws may be contaminated with saliva. Bites from pet pigs or primates also have a high rate of wound infection. Bites on the hands or feet have a higher risk of infection than bites to other parts of the body.
  • Small Indoor Pet Animal Bites: Small indoor pets (gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, white mice, rats, etc.) carry no risk for rabies. Puncture wounds from these small animals don't need to be seen. There is only a small risk for developing a wound infection.
First Aid:

FIRST AID Advice for Bleeding: Apply direct pressure to the entire wound with a clean cloth.

FIRST AID Advice for all Bites and Scratches: Wash all bite wounds and scratches with soap and warm water.

When to Call Your Doctor

Call 911 Now (you may need an ambulance) If
  • Major bleeding that can't be stopped (see First Aid)
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
  • You think you have a serious injury
  • Bleeding doesn't stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure (continue pressure until seen by a physician)
  • Any contact with an animal that may carry rabies
  • Any cut or injury caused by a wild animal
  • Any cut or injury caused by a monkey
  • Any cut or injury caused by pet animal (e.g., dog or cat)
    EXCEPTION: superficial scratches that don't go through the skin or tiny puncture wound
  • Puncture wound (holes through skin) caused by a cat (teeth or claws)
  • NOTE: For all new bites, see First Aid
  • Bite looks infected (redness, swelling, warmth, tender to touch, or red streaks)
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • You think you need to be seen
  • Your last tetanus shot was more than 10 years ago
  • Bat contact or exposure with or without a bite mark
Self Care at Home If
  • Tiny puncture wound or superficial scratches (EXCEPTION: cat puncture wound)
  • Bite that didn't break the skin

  1. Bleeding: For any bleeding, apply continuous pressure for 10 minutes.
  2. Cleansing: Wash all wounds immediately with soap and water for 5 minutes. Scrub the wound enough to make it re-bleed a little. Also, flush vigorously under a faucet for a few minutes (Reason: can prevent many wound infections).
  3. Antibiotic Ointment: Apply an antibiotic ointment (e.g., Neosporin, Bacitracin) to the bite 3 times a day for three days.
  4. Pain Medication:
    • For pain relief, take acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
    • Acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol): The dose is 650 mg by mouth every 4 hours or 1000 mg by mouth every 6 hours. Maximum dose per day = 4000 mg.
    • Ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin, Advil): The dose is 400 mg by mouth every 6 hours or 600 mg by mouth every 8 hours.
    • People who are over 65 Years of age: Acetaminophen is generally considered safer than ibuprofen. Acetaminophen dosing interval should be increased to every 8 hours because of reduced liver metabolism. Maximum dose per day = 3000 mg.
    • CAUTION: Do not take ibuprofen if you have stomach problems, kidney disease, are pregnant, or have been told by your doctor to avoid this type of anti-inflammatory drug. Do not take ibuprofen for more than 7 days without consulting your doctor.
    • CAUTION: Do not take acetaminophen if you have liver disease.
    • Read the package instructions thoroughly on all medications that you take.
  5. Expected Course: Most scratches, scrapes and other minor bites heal up fine in 3 to 5 days.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Wound begins to look infected (redness, swelling, warmth, tender to touch, or red streaks)
    • You become worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Author and Senior Reviewer: David A. Thompson, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 1/19/2009

Last Revised: 8/31/2009

Content Set: Adult HouseCalls Online

Portions Copyright 2000-2009 Self Care Decisions LLC; Copyright LMS, Inc.

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