Note: If the bite is from a wild animal or from a domestic animal whose immunization status is unknown, rabies is a concern. Seek prompt medical attention from a physician, even if the bite is mild and the skin barely broken. Immediate vaccination can prevent rabies from developing. While rabies in humans is rare, it is fatal.
First Aid Guide
Minor bite wounds are wounds where the skin is only slightly broken or when the bite is from a human (eg, child) or a domestic animal that is vaccinated against rabies.
First aid for minor bite wounds:
- Thoroughly wash the wound with soapy water.
- Apply an antibiotic cream (such as bacitracin) to the affected area.
- Cover the wound with a clean bandage.
- Watch for signs of infection (ie, the affected area is very red or warm to the touch, painful, oozing pus, or blood-filled).
- If the bite is on the hand or finger, call your doctor, as antibiotics are often given for bites in this area.
First aid for severe bite wounds:
- Attempt to stop the bleeding by applying pressure to the affected area with a clean, dry cloth.
- Seek medical assistance.
Rabies is more common in raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes than in domestic cats and dogs; it can occur but is rare in wild or domestic rodents, such as rabbits, squirrels, and mice.
If you have been bitten by an animal and its status is unknown, it is best to notify police or animal control. DO NOT attempt to capture a potentially rabid animal yourself. Be ready to tell them what the animal looks like and where it is likely located so they can capture it and determine what steps to take next.
Dog bites are largely preventable. (For more information, see the Centers for Disease Control Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/duip/biteprevention.htm):
- Never leave infants or young children alone with any dog.
- Teach children basic safety around dogs:
- Do not approach an unfamiliar dog.
- Do not play with a dog unless supervised by an adult.
- Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
- Do not pet a dog without allowing it to see and sniff you first.
- If approached or knocked down by an unfamiliar dog, remain motionless. (Do not run!)
- Avoid direct eye contact with a dog.
- If bitten, immediately report the bite to an adult.
The wound will typically be a puncture wound with visible teeth marks, possibly quite deep in the skin and muscle.
Any time you have been bitten by an animal, even if it broke the skin only slightly, it is important to consider the potential for rabies. If the animal is a domestic animal that is known to have been immunized for rabies, simply follow the above self-care measures and watch for potential infection. If the animal is wild or is domestic and the immunization status is unknown, seek prompt medical attention.
There is no cure for rabies once symptoms have developed. However, if you are promptly vaccinated after being exposed to the disease, you can develop immunity to it before symptoms develop. A physician will need to determine if treatment should be done once a bite occurs.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Dog Bite Prevention Week. http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/duip/biteprevention.htm. Modified September, 27 2007. Accessed October, 23 2008.
Handal KA; American Red Cross. Part 2: first aid. In: The American Red Cross First Aid and Safety Handbook. 1st ed. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company; 1992:51-52,59.