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First Aid: Animal Bites

First Aid

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

Rarely, bites from wild animals can lead to rabies, a life-threatening infection. Bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes cause most rabies cases.

What to Do

  • Wash the bite area with soap and water. If the bite is bleeding, put pressure on it using sterile gauze or a clean cloth.
  • If the bleeding has stopped, put antibiotic ointment on the area.
  • Cover the area with a bandage or sterile gauze.
  • If your child has pain, give acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Get 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 more painful.
  • Your child is behind on shots or has not had a tetanus shot within 5 years.

If your child needs 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: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date Reviewed: 10-05-2018

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