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Animal bites - self-care

Bites - animals - self-care


Animal bite
Animal bites


Animal bite

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An animal bite can break, puncture, or tear the skin. Animal bites that break the skin put you at risk for infections.


Most animal bites come from pets. Dog bites are common and most often happen to children. Compared with adults, children are much more likely to be bitten on the face, head, or neck.

Cat bites are less common but have a higher risk for infection. Cat teeth are longer and sharper, which can cause deeper puncture wounds. Most other animal bites are caused by stray or wild animals, such as skunks, raccoons, foxes, and bats.

Bites that cause a puncture wound are more likely to become infected. Some animals are infected with a virus that can cause rabies. Rabies is rare but can be deadly.


Possible symptoms include:

Wound Care

Because of the risk for infection, you should see a health care provider within 24 hours for any bite that breaks the skin. If you are caring for someone who was bitten:

To care for the wound:

For deeper wounds, you may need stitches. The provider may give you a tetanus shot if you have not had one in the last 5 years. You may also need to take antibiotics. If the infection has spread, you may receive antibiotics through a vein (IV).

When to Call Animal Control

You should call animal control or your local police if you are bitten by:

Tell them what the animal looks like and where it is. They will decide whether the animal needs to be captured and isolated.

Possible Complications

An animal bite is more likely to become infected in people who have:

Getting a rabies shot right after you are bitten can protect you from the disease.

How to Prevent Animal Bites

To prevent animal bites:

When to Call the Doctor

Wild animals and unknown pets could be carrying rabies. If you have been bitten by a wild or stray animal, contact your provider right away. See your provider within 24 hours for any bite that breaks the skin.

Call your provider or go to the emergency room if:


Eilbert WP. Mammalian bites. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 54.

Goldstein EJC, Abrahamian FM. Bites. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, Updated Edition. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 320.


Review Date: 4/7/2018  

Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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