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When to See a Doctor for a Bite

In some cases, a person who has been bitten by a human or animal may need a tetanus or rabies shot, antibiotics to prevent infection, X-rays for a crush injury, or immediate treatment at a hospital. Get medical attention if:

  • The bite is from a cat.
  • A dog bite is to the hand or foot.
  • A bite is deep, large, or caused a laceration of the skin that might need stitches.
  • You suspect a broken bone or other possible internal injury, or a child has been bitten on the head.
  • There are signs of infection.
  • You haven't had a tetanus shot for more than 10 years or you're not sure when your last tetanus shot was. If it's been more than five years since your last tetanus shot, the doctor may recommend a booster.
  • You have diabetes, cancer, liver or lung disease, AIDS, or a weakened immune system.

When to Get Emergency Help for Bites

Call 911 or get emergency help for a bite if:

  • It is from a severe attack.
  • There is heavy bleeding that can't be stopped or ripping of skin.
  • The injury is on the face, eyes, or scalp.
  • The bite came from a wild animal, a stray pet whose rabies vaccination history is unknown, or a household pet without rabies protection.

Is Rabies Treatment Needed?

Your risk of rabies is higher if you were bitten by a raccoon, skunk, bat, or fox than if the bite is from a house pet, rabbit, or squirrel.

Rabies treatment usually isn't necessary for a dog or cat bite. Ask the pet's owner about the animal’s vaccine history. But if the history isn't known or the biter is a wild animal, go to a hospital emergency room or see your doctor right away.

If you were bitten by a wild animal, have someone watch where the animal goes and report it to your local animal control agency or health department, if possible. The staff may be able to find the animal and test it for rabies.

If you need rabies treatment, you'll get the first shot as soon as possible after the bite. Four more injections are given over the next 14 days. Rabies treatment used to involve painful shots given in the abdomen; today, the shots are given in the arm (or in the thigh for children) and are nearly painless.