Animal bites


An animal bite can result in a break or tear in the skin, a bruise, or a puncture wound.

Alternative Names

Bites - animals


Bites that result in puncture wounds are more likely to become infected. You might have a puncture wound if an animal's tooth went through your skin during the bite.

An animal bite is also more likely to become infected in those who have:

Some animals are infected with a virus that can cause rabies. Bats may spread this disease. Rabies is rare but can be deadly. If you get a rabies shot very soon after you are bitten, you can develop immunity to the disease and not get sick. For more information on this disease, see:  Rabies.

Antibiotics are used to treat many animal bites, especially:

You may need antibiotics even if you did not need stitches or a rabies shot.


Pets are the most common cause of bites.

If you are bitten by a wild animal or an unknown pet, try to keep it in view while you notify animal control authorities for help in capturing it. They will determine if the animal needs to be impounded and checked for rabies. Any animal whose rabies vaccination status is unknown should be captured and quarantined.


Possible symptoms include:

Certain diseases can also be spread through bites from various animals. These diseases may cause flu-like symptoms, headache, and fever.

First Aid

  1. Calm and reassure the person. Wear latex gloves or wash your hands thoroughly before attending to the wound. Wash hands afterwards, too.
  2. If the bite is not bleeding severely, wash the wound thoroughly with mild soap and running water for 3 to 5 minutes. Then, cover the bite with antibiotic ointment and a clean dressing.
  3. If the bite is actively bleeding, apply direct pressure with a clean, dry cloth until the bleeding stops. Raise the area of the bite.
  4. If the bite is on the hand or fingers, call the doctor right away.
  5. Over the next 24 to 48 hours, watch the area of the bite for signs of infection (increasing skin redness, swelling, and pain).
  6. If the bite becomes infected, call the doctor or take the person to an emergency medical center.


Do NOT go near an animal that may have rabies or is acting strangely or aggressively. Do NOT try to catch it yourself.

If an animal's behavior is strange, it may be rabid. Notify the proper authorities. The police can always direct you to the proper animal control authorities. Tell them what the animal looks like and where it is so they can capture it.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call 911 if the person has been seriously wounded -- for example, if the person is bleeding significantly and it will not stop with simple first aid measures.

Call your doctor or go to a hospital emergency room if:

Report the bite to the local animal control authorities, even if you don't seek professional medical care. This will allow authorities to test the animal and prevent further incidents.



BradfordJE, Freer L. Bites and injuries inflicted by wild and domestic animals.In: Auerbach PS, ed.Wilderness Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2011:chap 56.

Weber EJ, West HH. Mammalian bites. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds.Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 58.

Review Date: 1/8/2012
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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