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Animal Bites

Symptoms, Causes, Questions & Related Topics

Key Points

  • Animal bites, particularly from household pets like dogs and cats, are common in the U.S., with dogs accounting for the majority of incidents.
  • Despite dogs causing more bites, cat bites can be more dangerous due to the risk of cat scratch fever, an infection caused by bacteria trapped in deep puncture wounds.
  • Treatment for animal bites depends on the severity of the wound and the animal involved. Minor wounds can often be treated at home, but severe or infected wounds require medical attention.
  • Animal bites from unfamiliar animals, such as strays or wild animals, pose a significant risk of transmitting rabies, a serious and potentially fatal virus, necessitating immediate medical attention.

Animal bites are an extremely common occurrence in the United States, with millions happening each year. And while you may be afraid of being bitten by a wild animal while hiking or camping, household pets are responsible for the majority of animal bites. In fact, dogs – the pet whose nickname is “man’s best friend” – are the culprit for most animal bites, with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reporting approximately 4.5 million each year in the U.S. Cat bites are the next most common, followed by – in no particular order – bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes, and other animals that are found in neighborhoods and near homes.

While dog bites are the most common in the U.S., cat bites run a higher risk for causing infections. Since cats’ teeth are small, long, and sharp, their puncture wounds are deep, but the skin can quickly close over the bite, trapping bacteria in the wound and causing an infection of the lymph nodes called cat scratch fever. Symptoms of cat scratch fever include a wound that turns red, bumpy, and warm.

Treatment for animal bites not only depends on the type of animal, but also on the extent of the wound. If the wound is minor, you should:

  • Wash the wound with warm soap and water
  • Apply an antibiotic cream
  • Apply a bandage to the clean wound

If the wound is minor, but eventually becomes red, painful, warm, and/or swollen or if the wound is more severe, it’s important to seek medical attention as you may require stitches, sutures, or antibiotic treatment.

If you’re ever bitten by an animal that’s unfamiliar to you – whether it’s a stray dog or a wild raccoon – it’s important to pursue medical attention immediately, as the animal could be infected with rabies. Rabies is a serious and sometimes deadly virus that is transmitted through salvia when an infected animal bites or scratches a human.

Frequently asked questions

  • What animals are most likely to bite humans?

    Household pets, particularly dogs and cats, are the most likely to bite humans.
  • Why are cat bites potentially more dangerous than dog bites?

    Cat bites can be more dangerous because their long, sharp teeth can trap bacteria in deep puncture wounds, which can lead to an infection known as cat scratch fever.
  • How should I treat a minor animal bite at home?

    Minor animal bites can be treated at home by cleaning the wound with warm soap and water, applying an antibiotic cream, and covering it with a bandage.
  • When should I seek medical attention for an animal bite?

    You should seek medical attention if the wound becomes red, painful, warm, swollen, or if it's severe. Also, if you're bitten by an unfamiliar animal, such as a stray or wild animal, you should seek immediate medical help due to the risk of rabies.
  • What is rabies and how is it transmitted?

    Rabies is a serious and sometimes fatal virus that is transmitted through saliva when an infected animal bites or scratches a human.
  • What kind of medical treatment might be necessary for a severe animal bite?

    Severe animal bites may require stitches, sutures, or antibiotic treatment.
  • What is cat scratch fever?

    Cat scratch fever is an infection that can occur after a cat bite, caused by bacteria trapped in deep puncture wounds.
  • Are all animal bites dangerous?

    Not all animal bites are dangerous, but they all carry some risk of infection or disease transmission, so it's important to clean and monitor any animal bite.

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