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Animal Bites Overview

Many different types of animals ranging from dogs and cats to hamsters, raccoons, ferrets, and squirrels can bite adults and children. Many times, bites are from the family pet.

Types Of Animal Bites

The location and type of the injury depends upon the animal inflicting the bite :

Dog Bites — Victims of dog bites frequently know the dog that attacked them. Most dog bites occur in children, with the highest number seen in boys between the ages of five and nine years old. The head and neck are the most common site of bites in children up to age 10 years, probably because a child's head is close to the level of a large dog's mouth. The extremities (arms and legs), particularly the right hand, are the most frequent site of injury for older children and adults. A dog bite can lead to a range of injuries, including scratches, deep open cuts, puncture wounds, crush injuries, and tearing away of a body part. Dog bites rarely cause death.

Certain breeds of dog are more commonly associated with bites. German Shepherds, pit bull terriers, and mixed breeds account for the majority of dog bite injuries.

Cat Bites — Cats can cause wounds with their teeth or claws. Most of these bites are provoked, meaning that the cat was teased or bothered by the victim before the bite. Two-thirds of cat bites involve the upper extremities (arms and hands). Scratches typically occur on the upper extremities or face.

Deep puncture wounds are of particular concern because cats have long, slender, sharp teeth. When the hand is bitten, bacteria can get into the tissue that surrounds the bones or into a joint and result in osteomyelitis (infection of the bone) or septic arthritis (infection of the joint).

If infection occurs, it generally progresses rapidly, causing skin redness, swelling, and intense pain as quickly as 12 to 24 hours after the bite.

Rodent Bites — Rats cause the majority of rodent bites. Most bites occur at night on the face or hands in children five years old or younger. Rat bites are more common in areas where living conditions are poor.

Human Bites — Children are the most common victims of human bites, usually as a result of aggressive play with another child. Human bites can cause a semicircular or oval area of skin redness or bruising, and the skin may be punctured. Human bites are typically located on the face, upper extremities, or trunk (chest or abdomen).

Other types of Bites — The bites of most other animals, such as squirrels, rabbits, and guinea pigs, are generally treated the same way as cat bites.

Do I need Treatment?

Adults or children who have been bitten by an animal or human should see a healthcare provider in the following situations:

  • A cat has bitten and broken the skin. It is not necessary to be evaluated after a cat scratch unless there are signs or symptoms of infection (worsening pain, warmth, or redness, pus-like discharge, or fever).
  • A dog has bitten the hand, foot or head, or has bitten another area and caused a deep or large wound.
  • A bite victim has diabetes, liver disease, cancer, HIV or AIDS, or takes a medication that could weaken the immune system.
  • Bleeding does not stop after applying pressure for 15 minutes, if a bone may be broken, or if there is other serious injury.

It is best to be evaluated and treated within 8 hours of being bitten. Beginning treatment within 8 hours significantly reduces the chance of developing an infection.

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