How to prevent and treat animal bites
Animal bites can happen to anyone. And all animals have the potential to bite, even if they have never done so before. Pediatric surgeon Varun Bhalla, MD, shared advice on how to prevent and treat an animal bite.
“Most animal bites are caused by dogs or cats, with children making up the largest percentage of those who are bitten. Not all, but most animal bites occur when an animal is provoked,” said Dr. Bhalla.
Dog or cat bites
A dog or cat may bite when:
- Food is removed while they are eating.
- They are being teased.
- They are disturbed while sleeping.
- They are being petted or played with too aggressively.
- They are afraid, in pain, stressed or hiding.
- They are protecting their puppies or kittens.
“Encourage your children, family members and visitors to respect a pet’s space. Be aware if pets are showing signs of stress or signs they don’t want to be held, touched or played with anymore. Just like us, our pets need their space and don’t like to be teased, disturbed or frightened,” said Dr. Bhalla.
Wild animal bites
While most animal bites are caused by household pets, some bites are caused by wild animals. A wild animal may bite when:
- They are threatened.
- They are provoked.
- They are sick.
- They fear for their safety.
Dr. Bhalla said, “An unprovoked bite or scratch from a raccoon, possum, fox or squirrel may mean the animal is sick. It is important to seek immediate medical attention if you experience a wild animal bite.”
What to do if you are bitten by a domesticated or wild animal
Animal bite wounds can be minor to life threatening. It’s important to treat all animal bites right away. To treat an animal bite wound, Dr. Bhalla offered this advice:
For minor or superficial wounds and scratches:
- Wash the wound gently with soap and warm, clean water.
- Apply pressure to stop any bleeding.
- Apply antibiotic ointment.
- Cover the area with a clean bandage and change the dressing regularly.
- Watch for signs of infection such as redness, swelling, pain, discharge or fever.
- Call your doctor if you think the wound is infected or symptoms worsen.
Seek medical help right away if:
- The bite is from:
- A wild animal.
- A stray animal.
- A pet that is not up to date with rabies shots.
- An animal that looks sick or is acting strangely.
- The wound is deep, or the skin is badly damaged.
- There is severe bleeding, or the bleeding can’t be stopped after 10 minutes of applying pressure – call 911.
- The affected person has not had a tetanus shot is the last five years.
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