First Aid: Animal Bites

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First Aid

Animal bites and scratches that break the skin can sometimes cause infection. Some bites need to be closed with stitches while others heal on their own.

Rarely, animal bites (particularly from wild animals) can lead to rabies, a life-threatening disease. Bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes transmit most cases of rabies.

What to Do

  • Wash the bite area with soap and water; apply pressure with sterile gauze or a clean cloth if the bite is bleeding.
  • If the bleeding has stopped, apply antibiotic ointment.
  • Cover the area with a bandage or sterile gauze.
  • Offer your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain.

Seek Medical Care

If:

  • the bite was from:
    • a wild or stray animal
    • a pet that isn't up-to-date on rabies shots
    • an animal that is acting strangely
  • the bite has broken the skin
  • the bite is on the face, head, neck, hand, foot, or near a joint
  • a bite or scratch becomes red, hot, swollen, or increasingly painful
  • your child is behind on shots or has not had a tetanus shot within 5 years

When seeking treatment, have the following information on hand:

  • the kind of animal that bit your child
  • the date of the animal's last rabies vaccination, if known
  • any recent unusual behavior by the animal
  • the animal's location, if known
  • if the animal was a stray or wild, or was captured by a local animal control service
  • your child's immunization (shots) record
  • a list of any medicines your child is allergic to

Think Prevention!

Many animal bites can be prevented. Always keep a close eye on young kids around animals, even pets. Teach kids not to tease pets, to handle them gently, and to stay away from wild or stray animals.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2014



Related Resources

OrganizationNational SAFE KIDS Campaign The National SAFE KIDS Campaign offers information about car seats, crib safety, fact sheets, and links to other health- and safety-oriented sites.
Web SiteNational Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) The website of NCIPC contains a variety of injury prevention information.
Web SiteChildren's Safety Network Made up of several resource centers funded by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Children's Safety Network works to reduce injuries and prevent violence for children and adolescents.
OrganizationThe Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) The HSUS educates the public about the humane treatment of all animals, and how to find and care for different kinds of pets.


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Preventing Dog Bites Teaching kids a few basic dog manners will help them enjoy safe encounters with Fido.
Infections That Pets Carry Kids can benefit from the companionship, affection, and relationships they share with pets. But it's important to know how to protect your family from infections carried by pets and other animals.
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Rabies Rabies is a serious infection of the nervous system that is caused by a virus. Rabies is usually transmitted by a bite from an infected animal.
Bites and Scratches Animal bites and scratches, even minor ones, can become infected and spread bacteria to other parts of the body, regardless of whether the animal is a family pet or a wild animal.
First Aid: Skin Infections Skin infections are common during childhood. Here's what to do if your child has a skin infection.




Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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