Dog and cat bites are the most common animal bites. Animal bites can become infected easily. Infection occurs when bacteria travel from the mouth of the animal to your skin and penetrate the skin through an open wound. Cat bites can be particularly dangerous since the bites often look superficial but can penetrate deep, as cats have sharp teeth. Although rare, it is possible to contract rabies from an infected animal.

Symptoms

Signs that your bite has become infected and may be spreading include:

  • Swelling, redness, and warmth around the wound area
  • Continued pain beyond 24 hours
  • Red streaks up the extremity
  • Swollen glands around the injured site
  • Fever, chills
  • Fatigue or poor appetite

You do not need to experience all symptoms before seeking treatment. If you experience several of these symptoms, seek medical care immediately!

Treatment

Animal bites should be treated as quickly as possible. Clean the wound immediately with soap and large amounts of water. Apply direct pressure to the wound with gauze or a towel if there is bleeding. Your health care provider will assess the bite and prescribe any necessary tests and treatment, which could include x-rays, anti-rabies shots, pain medications, or antibiotics. It is important to follow up with your doctor to ensure that the infection does not spread.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Seek medical attention if you experience any of the symptoms above or if:

  • You are bitten by an unknown or wild animal, regardless of the severity of the injury.
  • You have not received a tetanus shot in the past 5 years. In this case, it is recommended that you get a shot within 24 hours of the bite.
  • There is swelling, redness, pus draining from the wound, or pain.
  • The bite is on your face, neck, or hands.
  • The bite is deep and/or large.
  • You are unsure if the wound needs stitches.
  • You become pale or lose sensation/motion in your fingers.
  • You are unable to stop the bleeding, despite applying direct pressure to the site for 15 minutes.
  • A bone may be broken.
  • You have diabetes mellitus, liver disease, or HIV or is on medication that can weaken your immune system.

Causes and Prevention

  • Do not disturb animals if they are eating, sleeping, or nursing, even if they are pets.
  • Do not disturb mothers with their young, as they can be very aggressive.
  • Do not leave young children or babies unattended around a pet.
  • Do not interact with stray or unfamiliar pets.
  • Talk to your health care provider about whether you should get the rabies vaccine.