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Bites and Stings: Animals

All animal bites need to be properly cleaned, and most require treatment based on the type and severity of the wound. Whether the bite is from a family pet or an animal in the wild, scratches and bites can become infected and cause scarring. Animals can also carry diseases that can be transmitted through a bite. Bites that break the skin and bites of the scalp, face, hand, wrist, or foot are more likely to become infected. Cat scratches, even from a kitten, can carry "cat scratch disease," a bacterial infection.

Other animals can transmit rabies and tetanus. Rodents such as mice, rats, squirrels, chipmunks, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, and rabbits are at low risk of carrying rabies, but they can transmit other diseases.

The most common type of animal bite is a dog bite. Follow these guidelines to help decrease the chance of your child being bitten by an animal:

  • Never leave a young child alone with an animal.

  • Teach your child not to tease or hurt an animal.

  • Teach your child to avoid strange dogs, cats, and other animals.

  • Have your pets licensed and immunized against rabies and other diseases.

  • Keep your pets in a fenced yard or secured to a leash.

How to respond to dog or cat bites and scratches

When your child is bitten or scratched by an animal, remain calm and reassure your child that you can help. Your health care provider will determine specific treatment for an animal bite. Treatment may include:

  • For superficial bites from a familiar household pet that is immunized and in good health:

    • Wash the wound with soap and water under pressure from a faucet for at least 5 minutes, but do not scrub as this may bruise the tissue. Apply an antiseptic lotion or cream.

    • Watch for signs of infection at the site, such as increased redness or pain, swelling, or drainage, or if your child develops a fever. Call your child's health care provider right away if any of these occur.

  • For deeper bites or puncture wounds from any animal, or for any bite from a strange animal:

    • If the bite or scratch is bleeding, apply pressure to it with a clean bandage or towel to stop the bleeding.

    • Wash the wound with soap and water under pressure from a faucet for at least 5 minutes, but do not scrub as this may bruise the tissue.

    • Dry the wound and cover it with a sterile dressing. Do not use tape or butterfly bandages to close the wound as this could trap harmful bacteria in the wound.

    • Call your child's health care provider for help in reporting the attack and to decide if additional treatment, such as antibiotics, a tetanus booster, or rabies vaccination is needed. This is especially important for bites on the face or for bites that cause deeper puncture wounds of the skin.

    • If possible, locate the animal that inflicted the wound. Some animals need to be captured, confined, and observed for rabies. Do not try to capture the animal yourself; instead, contact the nearest animal warden or animal control office in your area.

    • If the animal can't be found or is a high-risk species (raccoon, skunk, or bat), or the animal attack was unprovoked, your child may need a series of rabies shots.

Call your child's health care provider for any flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, malaise, decreased appetite, or swollen glands following an animal bite.

Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Trevino, Healther, M., BSN, RNC
Date Last Reviewed: 11/30/2014
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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