Getting bitten by an animal can happen to anyone. You may be hiking or camping and come across a wild animal that bites you to protect itself. Or maybe a neighbor’s dog bites you accidentally during a friendly game of catch.
Many types of animals can inflict bites on adults and children. Most animal bites are from the family pet, but the following animals can bite too:
Your doctor should examine any animal bites. Immediate medical attention may not always be possible, but you should get the bite checked by your doctor as soon as possible. Once a bite has occurred, it’s important to be on the lookout for signs or symptoms of infection.
The following symptoms may indicate infection or the presence of debris in your wound:
- localized redness around your wound
- warmth around the bite area
- red streaks leading away from the bite
- a fever
Animal bites can result when an animal is provoked. Provoked bites may occur if you try to remove food while a dog is eating. They can also happen if you tease your family pet.
However, in many cases animal bites are unprovoked. Unprovoked bites can occur in your backyard. Sometimes a raccoon or squirrel may attack for no obvious reason. If this occurs, the attacking animal is likely to be seriously ill.
If you’ve been bitten, you should immediately visit your doctor for several reasons. There may be a risk of getting:
- an infection, including bacterial and rabies infections
- broken animal teeth embedded in your wound
- foreign objects embedded in your wound
- possible nerve and blood vessel damage
The following types of bites pose the greatest risk of infection and should be promptly evaluated:
- dog bites
- cat bites
- wild animal bites
Diagnosis and Treatment
Your doctor will assess your risk of infection, check for additional injuries, and attempt to minimize scarring. Examinations following an animal bite usually involve the following:
Wounds are thoroughly examined for debris. Your wound may be treated with a numbing agent before your doctor examines it.
Your doctor can order X-rays to check for bone fractures. An X-ray can also help them ensure there’s no debris in the wound that isn’t visible upon inspection. Certain types of foreign material such as dirt or grass are easy to overlook.
Your doctor will irrigate the wound to clean it properly. This is important to prevent infection. Irrigation may not always prevent infection, but it does reduce the risk. A local anesthetic may be used to minimize pain.
Animal bites can result in skin tears that can’t be repaired. A procedure known as debridement may be necessary to remove dead or infected skin and tissue that can’t be repaired. Debridement can sometimes be painful. You may need a local anesthetic for this procedure.
Puncture wounds aren’t usually closed with stitches. But some wounds must be sutured, or stitched, immediately after the bite.
Your doctor may recommend different methods of wound care, based on the injury you sustained. Wounds that have been sutured should be kept clean and dry. Showering may be permitted, but the injury should be dried softly to avoid damaging the sutures. Wounds that aren’t sutured may require daily soaking or other treatments.
Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent infection resulting from an animal bite. The following types of bites usually warrant antibiotics:
- cat bites
- wounds that require debriding
- heavily contaminated wounds
Antibiotics are usually prescribed to older adults or people who have chronic medical conditions such as diabetes.
Most bite wounds can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. If your bite is severe, your doctor might prescribe a stronger pain medication for short-term pain relief.
Most animal bites heal quickly. There usually aren’t serious complications unless the bite is extremely severe. However, it can lead to scarring.
Lowering the risk of being bitten by an animal is fairly easy. You can do this by using common sense and remembering the following:
- Avoid contact with unknown animals.
- Never feed or attempt to catch wild animals, such as squirrels, raccoons, or rats.
- Avoid disturbing animals that are known for caring for their babies.
- Never engage in aggressive playing with animals. A family dog can accidentally bite you during a friendly game of tug-of-war.
- Never stick your fingers into animal cages.
Unless the bite is completely unprovoked or the animal is sick, most bites can be prevented easily.