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Definition

What are animal bites?

Animals merely might attack people, however, if they feel threatened, are sick, or are protecting their young or territory. Attacks by pets are more common. Animal bites rarely are life-threatening, but if they become infected, you can develop serious medical problems.

Many types of animals can bite adults and children. Most animal bites are from the family pet, but the following animals can bite too:

  • Raccoons
  • Ferrets
  • Squirrels
  • Rats

How common are animal bites?

Children are bitten more often than adults. The vast majority of animal bites are caused by dogs (85 to 90 percent), with the remainder caused by cats (5 to 10 percent) and rodents (2 to 3 percent). Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of animal bites?

Once a bite has occurred, it’s essential to be on the lookout for signs or symptoms of infection.

The following signs and 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
  • Pus
  • Swelling
  • Pain

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • The wound is a deep puncture or you’re not sure how serious it is.
  • The skin is badly torn and bleeding significantly — first apply pressure with a bandage or clean cloth to stop the bleeding.
  • You notice increasing swelling, redness, pain or oozing, which are warning signs of infection.
  • You have questions about your risk of rabies or about rabies prevention. If the bite was caused by a cat or a dog, try to confirm that its rabies vaccination is up to date. If the bite was caused by a wild animal, seek advice from your doctor about which animals are most likely to carry rabies.
  • Bats often carry rabies. And people have been infected without obvious signs of a bite. This is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people in contact with bats — or even those who are sleeping and awaken to find a bat in the bedroom — seek medical advice about rabies shots, even if they don’t think they’ve been bitten.
  • You haven’t had a tetanus shot in the past five years and the wound is deep or dirty. You may need a booster shot.

Causes

What causes animal bites?

It is believed that animal bites can result when an animal is provoked. Provoked bites may occur if you try to remove food while a dog is eating. Moreover, they can also happen if you tease your family pet.

However, in many cases animal bites are unprovoked. Unprovoked bites can happen 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.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for animal bites?

There are many risk factors for animal bites, such as:

  • Most people are more worried about bites from wild and stray animals, but any animal has the potential to bite.
  • Many bites are actually caused by a person’s own pet or an animal belonging to a friend or neighbour.
  • Animals can act unpredictably and bites aren’t always provoked. However, an animal is more likely to bite if it’s been disturbed, feels threatened, or gets overexcited.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How are animal bites diagnosed?

Inspection

Wounds are thoroughly examined for debris. Your wound may be treated with a numbing agent before your doctor examines it.

If your doctor suspects that you experience this condition, he/she will perform a physical examination to detect the severity of animal bites. Then your doctor will order some tests:

X-Rays

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.

How are animal bites treated?

Irrigation

Initially, 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.

Debridement

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.

Closure

Puncture wounds aren’t usually closed with stitches. But some wounds must be sutured, or stitched, immediately after the bite.

Wound Care

Your doctor may recommend different methods of wound care, based on the injury you sustained.

Medications

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

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage animal bites?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with animal bites:

  • Never pet, handle, or feed unknown animals
  • Leave snakes alone
  • Watch your children closely around animals
  • Vaccinate your cats, ferrets, and dogs against rabies
  • Spay or neuter your dog to make it less aggressive
  • Get a tetanus booster if you have not had one recently
  • Wear boots and long pants when you are in areas with venomous snakes

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: August 3, 2017 | Last Modified: August 3, 2017

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