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First Aid & Emergencies

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Animal and Human Bites - Topic Overview

Animal and human bites may cause puncture wounds, cuts, scrapes, or crushing injuries. Most animal and human bites cause minor injuries, and home treatment is usually all that is needed to care for the wound.

Most animal bites occur in school-age children. The face, hands, arms, and legs are the most common sites for animal bites. Since most bites occur in children, be sure to teach children to be careful around animals and that an animal could hurt them. Young children should always be supervised around animals.

Dog bites occur more than any other animal bite and are most frequent in the summer months. The dog is usually known to the person, and most injuries result from the dog being teased or bothered while eating or sleeping. Boys are bitten about twice as often as girls. The arms, head, and neck are the most likely areas to be bitten in children.

Cat bites usually cause deeper puncture wounds than dog bites and have a high risk of bacterial infection because they can be hard to clean adequately.

Exotic pet bites, such as from rats, mice, or gerbils, may carry illnesses, but rabies is not usually a concern. The bites from some pets, such as iguanas, are at risk for infection but do not carry other serious risks.

Livestock, such as horses, cows, and sheep, have powerful jaws and can cause crushing bite injuries. Infection, tetanus, and rabies are possible risks.

Wild animal bites may occur while hunting, camping, or hiking. Infection, tetanus, and rabies are possible risks.

Adult bites that cause a wound to the hand can be serious. A clenched fist striking another person in the mouth and teeth can cut or puncture the skin over the knuckles. This is commonly called a "fight bite." Underlying tissues may be damaged, and an infection can develop.

Bites from children are:

  • Usually not very deep.
  • Not as forceful as adult bites.
  • Not too likely to become infected.
  • Not damaging to underlying tissue.

When you have a bite:

  • Stop the bleeding camera.gif by applying direct pressure.
  • Determine if other tissues, such as blood vessels, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, bones, or internal organs, have been injured.
  • Determine if treatment by a doctor is needed.
  • Clean the wound to prevent bacterial infections, tetanus ("lockjaw"), and viral infections, such as herpes simplex virus and cytomegalovirus (CMV).
  • Determine the risk for rabies and the need for treatment to prevent the disease.
  • Determine if you need a tetanus shot.

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: November 14, 2014
    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.
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