We love our pets, many are like first class members of the family, but pet bites are a common reality. If you are at a friend or family member’s house or just out for a walk and experience a bite from someone’s dog or cat then you may be dealing with a serious wound that requires a trip to the emergency room.
How to Care for a Pet Bite:
- If the wound is bleeding heavily, call your doctor or go to the emergency room*. Keep in mind that stitches must be done within six hours of the injury.
- If you decide to care for the injury yourself:
- Wash the wound gently with soap and water.
- Apply pressure to the wound with a clean towel to stop any bleeding.
- Apply a sterile bandage.
- Keep your injured leg or arm elevated above the level of the heart to slow swelling and prevent infection.
- Apply antibiotic ointment to the area two times a day until it has healed.
If you were bitten by a neighbor’s pet, take pictures of the wound, if possible, and report the incident to the proper authorities in your community such as the neighborhood association, the animal control office, or the police. You may wish to speak with a personal injury lawyer to see if you have a case for damages.
*Call Your Doctor/Visit the Emergency Room in these Scenarios:
- If you were bitten by a stray cat as cat bites often cause infection. It is not necessary to call your doctor for a cat scratch unless you think the wound is infected.
- You have a dog bite on your hand, foot or head, or the bite is deep or gaping.
- You were bitten and have diabetes, liver or lung disease, cancer, AIDS, or another condition that could weaken your ability to fight infection.
- You have any signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, warmth, increased tenderness, pus oozing from the wound, or a fever.
- The bleeding hasn’t stopped after 15 minutes of applying pressure or you think you may have a broken bone, nerve damage, or another serious injury.
- Your last tetanus shot was more than five years ago, because you may need a booster shot.
- You were bitten by a wild animal or a domestic animal (such as a pet) of which you don’t know their vaccination status.
Do I Need a Rabies Shot?
If you were bitten by a wild animal such as a skunk, raccoon, bat or coyote, go to the doctor right away to get the rabies shot. Rabies is actually fairly uncommon among household pets in the United States; the chance that you came into contact with rabies if you were bit by a domestic animal that appears healthy is very low.
If you are the owner or you know the owner of the dog or cat that bit you, acquire the pet’s vaccination record. An animal that appears healthy and has been vaccinated may still be quarantined for 10 days to make sure it doesn’t start showing signs of rabies. If the animal does have rabies, you will need to get a series of rabies shots.
If the animal is a stray or you can’t find the owner of the dog or cat that bit you, call the animal control agency or health department in your area. If they can locate the animal, they will test for rabies. If the animal cannot be located, your doctor may recommend that you take the series of rabies shots as a precaution.
Prevent Cat and Dog Bites
- Never leave a young child alone with a pet as they don’t always know to be gentle or see the signs of irritation in the pet.
- Do not try to separate fighting animals as you may get bitten in the process.
- Stay away from sick animals and/or animals that you don’t know whether or not they are vaccinated.
- Do not touch animals while they are eating as they are often very protective of their food.
- Keep dogs on a leash in public.
- Choose your family pet carefully and be sure to keep your pet’s vaccinations up-to-date.
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