Bay Area Medical Information (BAMI.us)
Cat and Dog Bites
 

 What to do first:


1) Wash the wound gently but thoroughly with soap and water for 3-5 minutes.
2) Apply pressure with a clean towel to the injured part to stop the bleeding.
3) Apply an antibiotic ointment and cover wound with a sterile bandage.
4) Keep the injury elevated above the level of the heart to slow swelling and prevent infection.
5) Report the incident to the proper authority in your community
(for example, animal control office or police).
6) Apply antibiotic ointment to the area 2 times every day until it heals. (2,6)


7) Call your doctor if any of these situations occur:

  • All cat bites Cat bites often cause infection. You don't need to call your doctor for a cat scratch, unless you think the wound is infected

  • A dog bite on the hand, foot or head 

  • A bite that is deep or gaping

  • Bite victims who have diabetes, liver or lung disease, cancer, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) or another condition that could weaken the ability to fight infection.

  • Any signs of infection, such as fever, chills, redness, swelling, warmth, increased tenderness, oozing of pus from the wound.

  • Bleeding that doesn't stop after 15 minutes of pressure

  • Possible broken bone, nerve damage or another serious injury

  • Last tetanus shot (vaccine) was more than 5 years ago. (If so, a booster shot may be necessary and should be given within 24 hours of injury.)

Bites are generally not sutured unless a large area is involved or the bite involves the face. Many of these become infected, so most doctors prefer to leave them open for daily wound care. Antibiotics are frequently prescribed for bite wounds.

Rabies: Most common in raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes


Bites from nonimmunized domestic animals and wild animals carry the risk of rabies. However, rabies is more common in raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes than in cats and dogs. Rabbits, squirrels and other rodents rarely carry rabies. 5)

  • If possible, ask the pet owner for the pet's vaccination record (record of shots). An animal that appears healthy and has been vaccinated should still be quarantined (kept away from people and other animals) for 10 days to make sure it doesn't start showing signs of rabies. If the animal gets sick during the 10-day period, a veterinarian will test it for rabies. If the animal does have rabies, you will need to get a series of rabies shots.

  • If the animal is a stray, or you can't find the owner of the dog or cat that bit you, call the animal control agency or health department in your area. They will try to find the animal so it can be tested for rabies.

  • If the animal control agency or health department can't find the animal that bit you, if the animal shows signs of rabies after the bite, or if a test shows that the animal has rabies, your doctor will probably decide to give you a series of rabies shots. You need to get the first shot as soon as possible after the bite occurs. After the first shot, there will need to be 5 more shots over a 28-day period. (2)

Fox with rabies
This wild fox exhibited symptoms including agitation, and excessive salivation, and was diagnosed as suffering from rabies. In 2001, wild animals accounted for 93% of reported cases of rabies; rabid raccoons were the most frequently reported - 37.2%, followed by skunks - 30.7%, bats - 17.2%, foxes - 5.9%, and other wild animals, including rodents and lagomorphs - 0.7%. Photo and text courtesy of the CDC

Tetanus prophylaxis


Tetanus (Td) injection should  be given within 24 hrs. of the bite if the patient has not had a tetanus immunization in the last 5 years.

 

In the News...


Dogs are more likely to bite than cats, but cat bites are more likely to cause infection
"In 2003, there were 3,400 dog bites reported in the U.S., Many of the bites reported occurred despite pet owners' insistence that their dogs would not bite." (4) "Dog bites typically cause a crushing-type wound because of their rounded teeth and strong jaws. An adult dog can exert 200 pounds per square inch (psi) of pressure, with some large dogs able to exert 450 psi. Such extreme pressure may damage deeper structures such as bones, vessels, tendons, muscle, and nerves. The sharp pointed teeth of cats usually cause puncture wounds and lacerations that may inoculate bacteria into deep tissues."(1)

Children: Beware of pets you know
In a recent study of children who had been bitten by a dog, the children were more likely to be bitten by dogs they knew --their own pet or the pet of a friend. Most of the children had injuries to the face, head and neck area with 27 percent requiring hospitalization. The study showed that the number of dog attacks on children decreases with age and is highest at 1 year of age. The reason is clear. Toddlers are much more likely than older children to unintentionally aggravate dogs, who may then react as dogs do -- by biting. Based on their findings, the researchers and other experts have made the following recommendations: Postpone purchasing the family dog until the youngest child reaches the age of 5. Once a family is ready for a dog, give careful consideration of the breed. For instance, in this study German Shepherds and Dobermans were more than five times as likely to bite children compared to other breeds such as a labrador retriever or a mixed-breed dog. Parents should supervise toddlers and dogs at all times and teach small children how to handle a dog responsibly. Always let a dog sniff you before petting it, don't run past dogs you don't know, and never try to break up a dog fight.

References:
  1. Animal Bites from emedicine.com Author: Jack Stump, MD, Consulting Staff, Department of Emergency Medicine, Southwest Washington Medical Center
  2. Cat and Dog bites from FamilyDoctor.org. This is a good patient handout detailing all the important considerations related to cat and dog bites.
  3. Allergic Contact Rashes from the American Academy of Dermatology
  4. Dog Bites from the U.S. Postal Service
  5. Animal Bites from the Mayo Clinic
  6. Animal Bites from Merck Source
  7. Learn how to avoid dog bites, and how to prevent your dog from biting from the Humane Society

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