Animal bite injuries range from shallow cuts to deep, life-threatening wounds. An animal can cut or puncture the skin when it bites. Your skin may be torn from your body. Your skin may swell or bruise even if the bite does not break the skin. Animal bites occur more often on the hands, arms, legs, and face. Bites from dogs and cats are the most common injuries.
Return to the emergency department if:
- You have a fever.
- Your wound is red, swollen, and draining pus.
- You see red streaks on the skin around the wound.
- You can no longer move the bitten area.
- Your heartbeat and breathing are much faster than usual.
- You feel dizzy and confused.
Contact your healthcare provider if:
- Your pain does not get better, even after you take pain medicine.
- You have nightmares or flashbacks about the animal bite.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
You may need any of the following:
- Antibiotics prevent or treat a bacterial infection.
- Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask how to take this medicine safely.
- A tetanus vaccine may be needed to prevent tetanus. Tetanus is a life-threatening bacterial infection that affects the nerves and muscles. The bacteria can be spread through animal bites.
- A rabies vaccine may be needed to prevent rabies. Rabies is a life-threatening viral infection. The virus can be spread through animal bites.
- Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him of her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.
Follow up with your healthcare provider in 1 to 2 days:
You may need to return to have your stitches removed. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
- Apply antibiotic ointment as directed. This helps prevent infection in minor skin wounds. It is available without a doctor’s order.
- Keep the wound clean and covered. Wash the wound every day with soap and water or germ-killing cleanser. Ask your healthcare provider about the kinds of bandages to use.
- Apply ice on your wound. Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on your wound for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed.
- Elevate the wound area. Raise your wound above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your wound on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.
Prevent another animal bite:
- Learn to recognize the signs of a scared or angry pet. Avoid quick, sudden movements.
- Do not step between animals that are fighting.
- Do not leave a pet alone with a young child.
- Do not disturb an animal while it eats, sleeps, or cares for its young.
- Do not approach an animal you do not know, especially one that is tied up or caged.
- Stay away from animals that seem sick or act strangely.
- Do not feed or capture wild animals.