Even when an animal scratch or bite seems insignificant, there are risks associated with not treating it correctly. Animals, even family pets, carry bacteria, especially in the nails and mouth, that can infect and spread in broken skin.
For example, even kittens can spread “cat scratch disease,” a bacterial infection, to humans. Even more dangerous, some animals potentially carry serious diseases, such as tetanus and rabies.
Here is what you need to know if you or a loved one is bitten or scratched by an animal.
How to Treat an Animal Bite or Scratch
If the bite or scratch is shallow and from an immunized household pet in good health, wash the wound for at least 5 minutes with soap and water. Avoid scrubbing the injury, which could lead to bruising. Use an antiseptic ointment or cream.
Once the injury has been treated, watch for infections. Symptoms include swelling, redness, pain, fever, or drainage. If you notice any of these symptoms, call a healthcare provider.
If the injury is from an animal unknown to you or the wound is deep, follow these steps:
- Apply pressure to the injury if it is bleeding with a clean towel or bandage to help stop bleeding.
- Use soap and water to wash the wound for at least five minutes. Avoid scrubbing because it may lead to bruising.
- Dry the wound and wrap it with a sterile dressing. Avoid butterfly bandages or tape as these could potentially trap bacteria in the wound.
Immediately contact your healthcare provider to determine whether additional treatment may be needed, such as a tetanus booster, antibiotics, or a rabies vaccine. This is critical for injuries to the face, hands, feet, and deep puncture wounds, especially for any cat bite since there is a high risk of infection. A healthcare provider can also provide help for reporting the attack to the proper authorities.
If at all possible, try to locate the animal that caused the injury. It may need to be captured, confined, and watched for the risk of rabies. Do not try to capture the animal. Call animal control or an animal warden in the area.
When to Seek Care
Seek immediate attention if:
- The wound does not stop bleeding on its own after 10 minutes.
- The injury occurred on the face, neck, foot, joint, or hand.
- The injury is large, deep, or severe.
- You do not know the animal, such as a stray or wild animal, or if it behaved strangely.
- The wound is red, swollen, has pus, is hot, or becomes more painful.
- If the hurt individual has a medical condition or weakened immune system that makes them more susceptible to infection.
- The person hurt is not up to date on tetanus immunizations.
Be sure to take steps to avoid an injury in the first place. Teach any children in your care not to go up to strange or wild animals, or tease any animal - even a family pet. Animals especially need to be left alone while eating or sleeping. Make sure to license and immunize your own pet.
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