Animal bites

What is an animal bite?

Anyone can be bitten by an animal. A family pet may bite you accidentally during play, or you may encounter a wild animal while spending time outdoors. No matter how or why the injury occurs, bites often need medical attention based on the type and severity of the wound. 

Infection is a major concern associated with animal bites, as animals can transmit diseases through broken skin. Additionally, bites that break the skin and bites on the face, hand, wrist, or foot are more likely to become infected.


What are the symptoms of an animal bite?

Animal bites can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Inflammation
  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Redness
  • Swelling

There may be additional symptoms if the bite becomes infected.  These symptoms include:

  • Tenderness at or near the bite
  • Warmth at or around the bite
  • Liquid or pus coming from the bite
  • Numbness around the bite
  • Swelling or red streaks around the bite
  • Fever
  • Fatigue

Anyone experiencing one or more of these symptoms should seek treatment from a physician to prevent the infection from spreading.


How are animal bites prevented?

Although some bites are unprovoked, it is possible to lower the risk of an animal bite with these precautions:

  • Never approach, pet, feed, or handle an unfamiliar animal.
  • Do not disturb an animal while it is eating.
  • Do not engage in aggressive play with animals.
  • Never stick your fingers into an animal’s cage.
  • Watch children closely around animals.
  • Spay or neuter your pets to reduce aggression.

Take steps to prevent these and other medical complications from animal bites:

  • Rabies - Vaccinate your pets against rabies. Rabies is a viral infection that can be fatal. If a physician believes a person may have been exposed to rabies from an animal bite, they may be recommended the rabies vaccine.
  • Tetanus – Tetanus is a severe bacterial infection spread directly through a wound or cut. It can cause lockjaw, body spasms, a stiff neck, trouble swallowing, or even death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends receiving a tetanus shot every 10 years. Get a tetanus shot if you have not had one recently.


How are animal bites treated?

If the wound is small and not the result of a wild animal bite, a person may not need to seek immediate medical attention. Take these steps to care for a minor animal bite that breaks the skin but does not create a deep puncture:

  • Wash the wound with soap and water.
  • Apply antibiotic cream or ointment.
  • Cover the bite with a clean bandage.

Seek immediate medical care if:

  • The wound is a deep puncture;
  • The skin is torn, bleeding profusely, or still bleeding after 10 minutes of firm and steady pressure with a bandage or clean cloth;
  • There is increased swelling, redness, or pain at the injury site;
  • There is concern of possible foreign material in the wound;
  • You have questions about your risk of rabies or rabies prevention; or
  • You have not had a tetanus shot in the past 10 years.

If you wish to see one of our Physicians about an animal bite, you can come into any Patient First center from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., any day of the week – no appointment is needed.