How to Treat Animal Bites and When to See a Doctor

Whether from a pet or a wild animal, experiencing an animal bite can be scary and painful. Knowing what to do and when to see a doctor can help you manage the situation and treat your wound. Here’s everything you need to know about treating animal bites.

Most Common Animal Bites

There are a variety of animal bites you may experience, and understanding how they may present and what they can cause is important for seeking treatment. These are some common animal bites you may encounter:

Dog Bites

Dog bites are some of the most common animal bites that people receive. Many who have dog bites know the dog that bit them, and most victims of dog bites are young children age 5 and under. If you’re an adult experiencing a dog bite, it’s likely that the bite is on your right hand, arms, or legs. Because dogs typically have larger mouths and strong jaws, they may cause deep cuts, scratches, crush injuries, and tearing when they bite you. A bite from a dog may also result in broken bones.

Cat Bites

When you’re bitten by a cat, it’s likely that you’ll experience the bite on your face, neck, hands, or upper arms. Cats have long, sharp teeth that can puncture flesh and cause infection. Those who experience cat bites may need to take preventative action against potential infection in the bones or joints. Though cat bites may not be as large or severe as dog bites, the potential for infection can still make cat bites incredibly dangerous.

Rodent Bites

Household rodents, including rats and mice, are the culprits of many animal bites. You may experience rodent bites if your household has them as pets. Children are more likely to experience rodent bites than adults, and they usually get bitten on the face or hands during the night and when sleeping.

Other Animals

There are many other animals that you may be bitten by while working or if you’re outside. These include rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, raccoons, and squirrels. These other animals may cause a similar kind of damage with their bites as cats. When bitten by any animal you don’t know, it’s important to assess for rabies exposure.

Animal Bite Symptoms

The symptoms you experience when you’re bitten by an animal can vary depending on the animal and the severity of the bite. These are some common symptoms you may experience when you’re bitten by an animal:

How To Treat Animal Bites

Doctor with stethoscope and arms folded in front of body.

Image by jeshoots is licensed with Unsplash License

If you’ve recently been bitten by an animal, the first thing you can do to treat the wound is wash the area with soap and water. Using cool water may feel better on the wound than hot water. This can help minimize the chance of infection and keep the wound clean. After washing the bite, you can apply pressure using a clean cloth or some gauze. Be sure the material you’re using is clean so that you don’t contaminate the wound further.

If the bite is bleeding, apply pressure until the bleeding stops, then use antibiotic ointment on the area. You may use antibiotic ointment with pain-relieving properties to help relieve some discomfort from the bite. You can also take a medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve pain. If the pain persists, it may be best to see a doctor so that you can get a prescription for pain medication to relieve the discomfort.

Should You Call Animal Control?

You can often use your best judgment to determine what to do in the event of an animal bite. There are many animal bite situations in which calling animal control isn’t necessary. For example, you may be playing with a puppy or kitten who may bite you without realizing it, in which case calling animal control often isn’t necessary. If it’s your own pet who bit you and they’re under control, you likely don’t need to call the authorities.

If there is a loose animal that’s bitten you or someone else, it may be a good idea to call animal control. When an animal bites someone and the police or emergency services are contacted, they may call animal control themselves. Consider communicating with the professionals on the scene to determine if calling animal control is necessary. If you or a child is experiencing frequent bites from rodents, it may be best to contact pest control.

Identifying the Signs of Infection

Identifying signs of infection is an important step in post-bite care because you can determine if you need to see a doctor. These are some common signs that your animal bite wound may be infected. You may:

When to See a Doctor

If you’re unsure whether to see a doctor for your wound, it may be best to be cautious and seek treatment. When determining whether or not to see a doctor for an animal bite, it’s important to assess the wound. If the animal bite did not break your skin, it may not be necessary to seek medical attention unless you’re experiencing other symptoms. Many medical professionals recommend seeking treatment within 24 hours of the bite, but there are some situations in which visiting the emergency room may be best. These are some signs that you should seek immediate medical attention:

If you’re experiencing serious symptoms, it’s always a good idea to see a medical professional.

We hope this guide has been helpful if you or someone you know has recently experienced an animal bite. For more information or to chat with one of our specialists, you can give us a call today.

Dr. John Knight
Dr. John Knight

Dr. Knight is a renowned hand, wrist and upper extremity surgeon with over 25 years of experience. Dr. Knight is a Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon and Fellowship trained. Dr Knight has appeared on CNN, The Doctors TV, Good Morning America, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, Oxygen network and more.