What is animal bites?

Animal and human bites: Overview

Animal and human bites may cause puncture wounds, cuts, scrapes, or crushing injuries. Most animal and human bites cause minor injuries. Home treatment is usually all that is needed to care for the wound.

Animal bites

Most animal bites occur in school-age children. The face, hands, arms, and legs are the most common sites for animal bites. 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. They happen most often in the summer months. The dog is usually known to the person. 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. They have a high risk of bacterial infection because they can be hard to clean well.
  • Exotic pet bites, such as from rats, mice, or gerbils, may carry illnesses. But rabies usually isn't a concern. The bites from some pets, such as iguanas, are at risk for infection. But they don't carry other serious risks.
  • Livestock bites, such as from horses, cows, and sheep, can cause crushing injuries. These animals have powerful jaws. Infection, tetanus, and rabies are possible risks.
  • Wild animal bites may occur while hunting, camping, or hiking. Infection, tetanus, and rabies are possible risks. Bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes are the animals most likely to have rabies in the U.S. and Canada. Small mammals, such as mice and squirrels, almost never have rabies.

Human bites

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." Tissues under the skin may be damaged, and an infection can develop.

Bites from children are:

  • Usually not very deep.
  • Not as forceful as adult bites.
  • Not too likely to become infected.
  • Not damaging to tissue under the skin.

When should you get medical care after a bite wound?

A bite injury may need to be closed by a health professional, may require antibiotic medicines, or both. The decision to close a wound with stitches, staples, skin adhesive, or fabric strips depends on:

  • The type of biting animal.
  • The size and location of the bite.
  • The time that has passed since the bite occurred.
  • The general health of the person bitten.

Most wounds that require treatment should be closed with stitches, staples, fabric strips, or skin adhesives (also called liquid stitches) within 12 hours after the injury. Your risk of infection increases the longer the wound remains untreated.

Call your doctor if you have questions about how to take care of the wound.

Who should you call if you have been bitten by an animal that may have rabies?

After an animal bite, notify animal control authorities. Even if the law in your area doesn't require you to report animal bites, you may wish to call animal control to report the bite. They can help you find out if the animal that bit you:

  • Has been properly vaccinated.
  • Needs to be observed for signs of illness. A healthy pet that has bitten someone should be confined and observed for 10 days to see whether it develops symptoms of rabies.
  • Is a rabies carrier in your area and whether you need to be vaccinated to prevent rabies.
  • Is a danger to others.

If you can't find a phone number for animal control, contact the police for the number.

Animal bites in children: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • The skin near the bite turns cold or pale or it changes color.
  • Your child loses feeling in the area near the bite, or it feels numb or tingly.
  • Your child has trouble moving a limb near the bite.
  • Your child has symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness near the wound.
    • Red streaks leading from the wound.
    • Pus draining from the wound.
    • A fever.
  • Blood soaks through the bandage. Oozing small amounts of blood is normal.
  • Your child's pain is getting worse.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if your child is not getting better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.