Animal Bites

An animal bite is a wound caused by the teeth of an animal. The teeth puncture, tear, scratch, bruise, or crush the person's tissue. The injury can damage skin, nerves, bone, muscle, blood vessels, or joints.

  • Causes

    Most bites occur when an animal has been provoked. Animals with rabies bite without being provoked.

  • Definition

    An animal bite is a wound caused by the teeth of an animal. The teeth puncture, tear, scratch, bruise, or crush the person's tissue. The injury can damage skin, nerves, bone, muscle, blood vessels, or joints.

  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about how the bite occurred, the animal that bit you, and your medical history. The doctor will examine the wound and assess damage to any nearby muscles, tendons, nerves, or bones. If the wound appears infected, the doctor may use a sterile swab to remove a sample for testing.

    Other tests may include:

    • X-rays
    • CT scan
    Dog Bite to Hand
    Dog Bite
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  • Prevention

    To avoid being bitten by an animal:

    • Be aware that most animal bites are from dogs. Dog owners are most likely to be bitten by their own dog.
    • Do not try to touch or restrain your own dog when it is injured or fighting with another dog.
    • Never approach a dog or another animal that you are unfamiliar with. Do not pet or play with sick or strange animals.
    • Do not run past a dog.
    • If a dog approaches you, stay calm and let it sniff you. Do not make eye contact. Wait until the dog leaves or slowly backs away. If you are knocked to the ground, roll into a ball and protect your head and neck with your hands.
    • Be alert to signs like ear position or bared teeth. These are signs that a dog may bite.
    • Carefully select pets. People with children should look for animals with easy-going temperaments.
    • Socialize and train your pet.
    • Supervise children's interactions with animals. Teach children to respect animals and not put their faces close to a pet. Do not allow teasing or tail pulling.
    • Do not wrestle with or promote aggression in your dog.
    • Do not bother an animal that is eating or sleeping.

  • Risk Factors

    A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Most bites occur in children and young adults. Males are affected more often than females. Bites happen more frequently in warmer weather.

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms of a bite include pain and bleeding.


    Wounds may become infected due to the bacteria normally found in the animal's mouth or a systemic infection of the animal, such as rabies. Wounds may also become infected from microbes on the skin or in the environment.

    Symptoms of infection include:

    • Redness around the wound
    • Pain
    • Warmth
    • Swelling
    • Tenderness
    • Pus oozing from the wound
    • Fever

  • Treatment

    The goal of treatment is to promote healing, decrease the risk of infection, and prevent complications. If your dog bit you and it has had all its vaccinations, you may be able to treat a minor wound yourself. However, call your provider for medical advice. Receiving medical care within the first 24 hours decreases the chance of infection.

    Seek medical care in these situations:

    • Bite from any wild animal (Bites from rabbits and rodents [squirrels, mice, rats] are quite unlikely to cause rabies.)
    • Cat or human bites (These are particularly prone to developing rapid and serious infection.)
    • Deep or large wound
    • Infection
    • Five or more years since your last tetanus shot

    Regardless of the severity of the bite, see a doctor if you have a chronic medical condition, such as:

    • Diabetes
    • Liver disease
    • Heart or lung disease
    • Arthritis or lupus
    • Poor circulation
    • Cancer
    • Immune system deficiency