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Animal and Human Bites: When Stitches Are Needed - Topic Overview

A bite injury may need to be closed by a health professional, may require antibiotic medicines, or both. The decision to close a wound with stitches, staples, or skin adhesive depends on:

  • The type of biting animal.
  • The size and location of the bite.
  • The time that has passed since the bite occurred.
  • The general health of the person bitten.

It is important to determine if your wound needs to be closed by a health professional. Your risk of infection increases the longer the wound remains untreated. Most wounds that require treatment should be stitched, stapled, or closed with skin adhesives (also called liquid stitches) within 6 to 8 hours after the injury. Some wounds that require treatment can be closed as long as 24 hours after the injury. If stitches may be needed, avoid using an antiseptic or antibiotic ointment until after a health professional has examined the wound.

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  • Most dog bites can be stitched, especially if the wound is large.
  • In general, cat bites are not stitched. Cat bites are usually puncture wounds and can be quite deep. Cat bites have a higher risk of infection than dog bites.
  • Human bites are not usually stitched unless they are on the face or ear. Human bites have a high risk of infection.
  • Most facial bites can be safely stitched. The risk of infection to the face is lower because the face normally has good blood flow. Because of good blood flow, a face wound may heal faster if it is stitched as soon as possible after a bite.
  • Bites to the hand or foot, whether from an animal or a human, are generally not stitched. These bites carry a high risk of infection, and stitching the wound further increases the likelihood of infection. In some situations, a dog bite to the hand may be stitched.
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