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Home Health Library Animal bites: First aid

Animal bites: First aid

How to administer first aid for an animal bite.

Overview

Animal bites might be caused by pets — such as cats, dogs, hamsters and turtles. Or bites may be from farm animals or wild animals. The type of care needed depends on how deep the bite is and the type of animal that caused it.

You may need medicine to fight infection. Or you may need a tetanus shot or rabies shots. Wild animals that may carry rabies are coyotes, foxes, raccoons, skunks, bats and others. Outdoor pets may carry rabies if they are sick, unvaccinated, stray and living in areas where rabies occur in pets.

Treatment

To care for a minor animal bite or claw wound, such as one that only breaks the skin, take these steps:

  • Wash the wound with soap and water.
  • Apply an antibiotic cream or ointment and cover the bite with a clean bandage.

When to call your doctor

Seek prompt medical care if:

  • The wound is a deep puncture or you're not sure how serious it is.
  • The skin is badly torn, crushed or bleeding severely. First apply pressure with a bandage or clean cloth to stop the bleeding.
  • You notice increasing swelling, skin color changes, pain or oozing. These are signs of infection.
  • You aren’t sure whether the animal that bit you has rabies. Bats often carry rabies and can infect humans without leaving obvious signs of a bite. This is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people in contact with bats seek medical advice about rabies shots. This is a good idea even if they don't think they've been bitten.

If you haven't had a tetanus shot in the past five years and the wound is deep or dirty, your healthcare professional may recommend a booster. Get a booster shot within 48 hours of your injury.

If the wound was caused by a cat or a dog, try to confirm that its rabies vaccination is up to date. If it was caused by a wild animal, seek advice from your doctor about which animals are most likely to carry rabies.

Last Updated: May 10th, 2024