What You Should Know
Animal bites can be frightening, and in some cases, are medical emergencies. The most common animal bites in the United States are from household pets, with dogs and cats causing the most bites.
Bites from wild animals are less common, but they are more dangerous because of the threat of rabies, a serious and often fatal infection of the central nervous system.
According to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), animal bites can vary from minor to serious, however none should be disregarded. ACEP offers the following guidance on managing animal bites.
- If the bite breaks the skin, treat it as you would a minor wound. Wash the area thoroughly with soap and water, apply an antibiotic cream, and cover it with a clean bandage.
- If you have not had a tetanus shot in the last 10 years, you should get one, preferably within 48 hours.
- If the bite creates a deep puncture or the skin is badly torn and bleeding, apply pressure to stop the bleeding and get medical attention right away.
- If you have a fever or you notice signs of infection (swelling, redness, pain, bad smell or fluid draining from the area), see a physician immediately.
- If an animal that is acting strangely bites you, go to an emergency department or see your doctor immediately. This is especially true for bats, skunks, raccoons and foxes. Strange behavior may be a sign of rabies. Strange behavior is typically an unprovoked attack. If normally shy nocturnal (night) animals bite during the day, seek medical attention. Rabies are rare in dogs, cats, rodents, and plant-eating animals.
To prevent animal bites, ACEP offers the following advice:
- Teach children to avoid unfamiliar animals and to realize that any animal may bite when they are frightened, ill, or injured. Even pets may bite when startled by sudden noises, motions, or disturbed when sleeping or eating.
- Never leave young children unattended with animals.
- If you have not had a tetanus shot in the past ten years get one.