Animal or Human Bite  

This Care Guide Covers:

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

View First Aid Advice
  • First Aid for All Bites and Scratches:
  • First Aid for Bleeding:

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Scratches from a Cat
Scratches from a Cat

When to Call Your Doctor

Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If
  • Major bleeding that can't be stopped (See FIRST AID)
  • Not moving or too weak to stand
  • You think your child has a life-threatening emergency
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
  • See FIRST AID for all new bites. Wash the wound right away with soap and water.
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Bleeding won't stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure (See FIRST AID)
  • Any contact with an animal at risk for RABIES
  • Wild animal bite that breaks the skin
  • Pet animal (such as dog or cat) bite that breaks the skin. (Exception: minor scratches that don't go through the skin or tiny puncture wound)
  • Puncture wound (holes through skin) from a CAT's teeth or claws
  • Puncture wound of hand or face
  • Human bite that breaks the skin
  • Bite looks infected (redness or red streaks) OR fever
  • Bat contact or exposure, even without a bite mark
  • You think your child needs to be seen urgently
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
  • Last tetanus shot over 5 years ago
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
  • You have other questions or concerns
Parent Care at Home If
  • Bite did not break the skin or is only a bruise
  • Minor scratches that don’t go through the skin from a pet
  • Tiny puncture wound from small pet, such as a hamster or puppy. (Exception: CAT puncture wound)
Causes & Health Information

Risk of Bites

  • Animal or human bites usually need to be seen. All of of them are dirty with saliva (spit) and can get infected.

Types of Wounds

  • Bruising. There is no break in the skin. No risk of infection.
  • Scrape (Abrasion) or Scratch. A wound that doesn’t go all the way through the skin. Low chance of infection. Antibiotic drugs are not needed.
  • Laceration (cut). A wound that goes through the skin to the fat or muscle tissue. Some chance of infection. Most need to be seen. Cleaning the wound can help prevent this. Antibiotic drugs may be needed.
  • Puncture Wound. Greater risk of infection. Puncture wounds from cat bites are more likely to get infected. Antibiotic drugs may be needed.

Types of Bites

  • Bites from Wild Animals.  Some wild animals can have rabies. Rabies is a disease that can kill people. Bites or scratches from any large wild animal can pass on rabies. Animals that may carry rabies are bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes, or coyotes. These animals may spread rabies even if they have no symptoms. In the U.S., 90% of cases of rabies in humans are caused by bats. Bats have spread rabies without a visible bite mark.
  • Small Wild Animal Bites. Small animals such as mice, rats, moles, or gophers do not carry rabies. Chipmunks, prairie dogs, squirrels and rabbits also do not carry rabies. Sometimes, their bites can get infected.
  • Large Pet Animal Bites. Most bites from pets are from dogs or cats. Bites from other pets such as horses can be handled using this guide. Dogs and cats are free of rabies in most cities. Stray animals are always at risk for rabies until proven otherwise. Cats and dogs that always stay indoors are free of rabies. The main risk in pet bites is wound infection, not rabies. Cat bites become infected more often than dog bites. Cat scratches can get infected just like a bite because cats lick their claws.
  • Small Indoor Pet Animal Bites. Small indoor pets are at no risk for rabies. Examples of these pets are gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, or mice. Tiny puncture wounds from these small animals also don't need to be seen. They carry a small risk for wound infections.
  • Human Bites. Most human bites occur during fights, especially in teenagers. Sometimes a fist is cut when it strikes a tooth. Human bites are more likely to become infected than animal bites. Bites on the hands are at higher risk. Many toddler bites are safe because they don't break the skin.

Animals at Risk for Rabies

  • Bat, skunk, raccoon, fox, or coyote
  • Other large wild animals
  • Pets that have never had rabies shots and spend time outdoors
  • Outdoor animals who are sick or stray
  • Dogs or cats in countries that do not require rabies shots
  • In the US and Canada, bites from city dogs and cats are safe.
CARE ADVICE FOR ANIMAL OR HUMAN BITE

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Bites that don't break the skin can't become infected.
    • Cuts and punctures always are at risk for infection.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Cleansing:
    • Wash all wounds right now with soap and water for 5 minutes.
    • Also, flush well under running water for a few minutes. Reason: Can prevent many wound infections.
    • Scrub the wound enough to make it re-bleed a little. Reason: To help with cleaning out the wound.
  3. Bleeding:
    • For any bleeding, put pressure on the wound.
    • Use a gauze pad or clean cloth.
    • Press for 10 minutes or until the bleeding has stopped.
  4. Antibiotic Ointment:
    • For small cuts, use an antibiotic ointment such as Polysporin. No prescription is needed.
    • Put it on the cut 3 times a day.
    • Do this for 3 days.
  5. Pain Medicine:
    • To help with the pain, give acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen. Use as needed. See Dose Table.
  6. Cold Pack for Bruises:
    • For bruising, use a cold pack. You can also use ice wrapped in a wet cloth. Apply it to the bruise once for 20 minutes. Reason: Helps with bleeding, pain and swelling.
  7. What to Expect:
    • Most scratches, scrapes and other minor bites heal up fine in 5 to 7 days.
  8. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Bite starts to look infected (pus, redness, red streaks)
    • Fever occurs
    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.
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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: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 9/1/2012

Last Revised: 1/14/2013

Content Set: Child Symptom Checker

Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.