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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.

Signs of Infection in Human and Animal Bites

If healing has not begun within 48 hours after the bite, the injured area may be infected. Cat bites, human bites, and bites on the hand or fingers become infected more easily than other bite wounds. Poor blood supply in the hand increases risk of infection.

Signs of infection include:

  • Swelling around injury or in gland areas of neck, armpit, or groin
  • Redness or warmth around the injury
  • Pain or a sore feeling near bite
  • Pus in or coming from the wound
  • A foul smell around injured area
  • Fever, thirst, shivering, sweating, or tiredness

Continuing Care for Human and Animal Bites

These tips may help in the days following a bite:

  • When possible, keep the injured area elevated above heart level. This will help slow swelling and protect it from infection.
  • Use antibiotic ointment twice a day until the wound is healed.

Bites can cause emotional distress, especially in children. Talk to your doctor if that's the case. Early psychological support can be helpful.