Health Conditions

Cat and Dog Bites

Here are some things you should do to take care of a wound caused by a cat or dog bite:

  • Wash the wound gently with soap and water.

  • Apply pressure with a clean towel to the injured area to stop any bleeding.

  • Apply a sterile bandage to the wound.

  • Keep the injury elevated above the level of the heart to slow swelling and prevent infection.

  • Report the incident to the proper authority in your community such as the animal control office or the police.

  • Apply antibiotic ointment to the area two times every day until it heals.

When To Call Your Medical Provider

Call your medical provider in any of these situations:

  • You have a cat bite. Cat bites often cause infection. You don't need 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 you have a bite that is deep or gaping.

  • You have diabetes, liver or lung disease, cancer, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (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, oozing of pus from the wound, or a fever.

  • You have bleeding that doesn't stop after 15 minutes of pressure or you think you may have a broken bone, nerve damage, or another serious injury.

  • Your last tetanus shot (vaccine) was more than five years ago.

  • You were bitten by a wild animal or a domestic animal (such as a pet) of unknown immunization status.

Will I need a rabies shot?

Probably not. Rabies is uncommon in dogs and cats in the United States.

If a dog or cat that bit you appeared to be healthy at the time of the bite, it's unlikely that the animal had rabies. However, it's a good idea to take some precautions if you're bitten by a dog or cat.

If you know the owner of the dog or cat that bit you, ask for the pet's vaccination record (record of shots).

An animal that appears healthy and has been vaccinated should still be quarantined (kept away from people and other animals) for ten days to make sure it doesn't start showing signs of rabies. If the animal gets sick during the ten-day period, a veterinarian will test it for 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. They will try to find the animal so it can be tested for rabies.

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