Animal and Human Bites - Home Treatment

Minor animal and human bites usually can be treated at home. If you do not have an increased chance of getting an infection, do not have other injuries, and do not need treatment by a doctor or a tetanus shot, you can clean and bandage a bite at home.

Treat bleeding

Stop the bleeding camera.gif with direct pressure to the wound.

After you have stopped the bleeding, check your symptoms to determine if and when you need to see your doctor.

Clean the wound

Clean the animal or human bite as soon as possible to reduce the chance of infection and scarring.

  • Wash the wound for 5 minutes with large amounts of clean water.
  • Don't use rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, iodine, or Mercurochrome, which can harm the tissue and slow healing.

Some bites cause only bruising (contusions) at the bite site but do not break the skin. These bites usually do not become infected.

Stitches, staples, or skin adhesives (also called liquid skin)

Determine whether your bite needs to be treated by a doctor. Bites may need to be closed with sutures, staples, or skin adhesives so that they won't leave a large scar. Bites to the hand are not usually closed because closing the bite wound may increase your chance of having an infection. Cat bites are rarely closed because they are usually no larger than a puncture.

Your doctor will tell you how to take care of your stitches or staples and when to return to have them removed. Skin adhesives usually do not need to be removed, but your doctor may wish to see you to check on the wound. Be sure to carefully follow your doctor's instructions. If you are unsure of how to care for your wound or have questions, call your doctor for instructions.

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Consider applying a bandage

Most bites heal well and may not need a bandage. You may need to protect the bite from dirt and irritation. Be sure to clean the bite thoroughly before bandaging it to reduce the risk of infection occurring under the bandage.

  • Select the bandage carefully. There are many products available. Do not use liquid skin bandages and moisture-enhancing bandages unless your doctor tells you to. These types of dressings may seal in bacteria that could cause an infection.
  • If you use a cloth-like bandage, apply a clean bandage when your bandage gets wet or soiled. If a bandage is stuck to a scab, soak it in warm water to soften the scab and make the bandage easier to remove. If available, use a nonstick dressing. There are many bandage products available. Be sure to read the product label for correct use.
  • Watch for signs of infection. If an infection develops under a bandage, a visit to your doctor may be needed.
  • Petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, will keep the bandage from sticking to the wound. Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly to the wound.
  • Use an adhesive strip to hold the edges of a wound together. Always put an adhesive strip across a wound to hold the edges together, not lengthwise. You can make a butterfly bandage at home camera.gif or purchase one to help hold the skin edges together.

Tetanus

  • Determine whether you need a tetanus shot.
  • You may have a localized reaction to a tetanus shot. Symptoms include warmth, swelling, and redness at the injection site. A mild fever may occur. Home treatment can help reduce the discomfort.

Pain relief

An ice or cold pack may help reduce swelling and bruising. Never apply ice directly to a wound or the skin. This could cause tissue damage.

Elevate the injured area on pillows while applying ice and anytime you are sitting or lying down. Try to keep the area at or above the level of your heart to reduce swelling.

Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:

Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.

Safety tips
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
  • Carefully read and follow all directions on the medicine bottle and box.
  • Do not take more than the recommended dose.
  • Do not take a medicine if you have had an allergic reaction to it in the past.
  • If you have been told to avoid a medicine, call your doctor before you take it.
  • If you are or could be pregnant, do not take any medicine other than acetaminophen unless your doctor has told you to.
  • Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 unless your doctor tells you to.

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After the bite

Many states require that animal control authorities be notified of animal bites. Even if your state law does not require you to report animal bites, you may wish to call animal control to report the bite. They can help you determine whether the animal that bit you:

  • Has been properly vaccinated.
  • Needs to be observed for signs of illness. A healthy pet that has bitten someone should be confined and observed for 10 days to see whether it develops symptoms of rabies.
  • Is a rabies carrier in your area and whether you need to be vaccinated to prevent rabies.
  • Is a danger to others.

If you are unable to find a phone number for animal control in the front pages of the telephone book, contact the police or sheriff's office for the number.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:

  • Signs of infection develop.
  • Signs of loss of function develop.
  • Pain gets worse.
  • The wound does not heal.
  • Symptoms become more severe or more frequent.
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

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