Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0
Animal or Human Bites
- Bites from rabies-prone wild animals
Rabies is a fatal disease. Bites or scratches from a
bat, skunk, raccoon, fox, coyote, or large wild animal
are especially dangerous. These animals can transmit
rabies even if they have no symptoms. Bats have
transmitted rabies without leaving a detectable bite
mark on the skin.
- Other wild animal bites
Rodents such as mice, rats, gophers, moles, chipmunks,
prairie dogs, and rabbits fortunately are considered
free of rabies. Squirrels rarely carry rabies. Rodents
can carry other diseases (such as plague).
- Outdoor pet bites
Most bites from pets are from dogs or cats. Bites from
domestic animals such as horses can be handled using
these guidelines. Dogs and cats are free of rabies in
most metropolitan areas. The main risk in pet bites is
serious wound infection, not rabies. Cat bites become
infected more often than dog bites. Claw wounds are
treated the same as bite wounds, since they are
contaminated with saliva.
- Indoor pet bites
Small indoor pets (gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, white
mice, etc.) are at no risk for rabies. Puncture wounds
from these small animals usually do not need to be seen
by a doctor. This kind of wound rarely goes through the
- Human bites
Most human bites occur during fights. Sometimes a fist
is cut when it strikes a tooth. Human bites are more
likely to become infected than animal bites. Bites on
the hands are at increased risk of complications. Most
toddler bites don't break the skin and don't need to be
For help with children who deliberately bite, see
First Aid for Suspected Rabies Contact
Wash the wound immediately with lots of soap and water for
10 to 15 minutes. If possible, flush the wound thoroughly
under a faucet. If a wild animal or sick pet animal is
still on the premises, call the police department
immediately. If the animal is captured or dead, avoid all
contact with it. Saliva from a rabid animal can cause
rabies if it gets into a cut.
Home Care for Animal Bites (When Rabies Not Suspected) and
for Human Bites
- FIRST AID for puncture wound or laceration (deep cut)
Wash the wounded area with water and liquid soap for
10 minutes before going to your physician's office.
Scrub the wound enough to make it rebleed a little.
Also check to see when your child last had a tetanus
shot. (If your child has not had a tetanus booster in
5 years, he needs one within 3 days.)
- Scrapes and superficial cuts
For wounds that don't penetrate deeply into the skin,
wash the area of the injury with water and liquid soap
for 10 minutes. Apply an antibiotic ointment to the
wound twice a day. You can leave it exposed to the air,
or put a Band-Aid on it if it's an area that gets dirty
- Pain relief
Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain.
- Observation of the pet
If there is any possibility of rabies, the pet should be
observed carefully for any signs of sickness. The pet
should be isolated from contact with humans for 10 days.
If the animal belongs to another family and they are not
cooperative, report the incident to your city's or
county's animal control division.
- Prevention of animal bites
Teach your children not to pick up sick or injured wild
animals. Teach them not to pet strange dogs, try to
break up dogfights, go near a dog that's eating, or
touch a sleeping dog. Children under 4 years of age
should always be supervised around dogs. Pit bull
terriers, German shepherds, Dobermans, and St. Bernards
are especially dangerous.
Call Your Child's Physician Immediately If:
- The animal could have rabies.
- The teeth or claws went through the skin (that is, all
puncture wounds). Note: Cat bites of the hand can
become infected rapidly and need prompt attention.
- The skin is split open (that is, may need stitches).
- The bite looks infected (red streaks or increasing
- Your child starts to act very sick.
Call Your Child's Physician During Office Hours If:
- The pain increases after the second day.
- The bite wound isn't healed in 10 days.
- You have other questions or concerns.