Animal Bite (Child)

Animal bites are common injuries. They can be caused by domestic and wild animals. These can include dogs, cats, rodents, bats, or rabbits.

Bites can cause damage ranging from small puncture wounds to serious injuries. Animal bites tend to be infected more easily than other wounds. In rare cases, the biting animal can pass a disease through the bite, such as rabies or tetanus.

Animal bites are treated by first stopping any bleeding. Then the wound is rinsed with large amounts of saline or sterile water. The nearby skin is washed with a mild soap and warm water. If needed, the wound is closed with stitches (sutures). A clean pressure dressing is applied. A tetanus shot may be needed, especially if the child’s last shot was more than 5 years ago. The bite may require an X-ray. If the vaccination status of the animal is unknown, rabies protocol may be followed. This includes quarantine of the animal and a series of rabies shots for the child. If the wound is severe or infected, a hospital stay may be needed.

Home care

Antibiotic cream or ointment or oral antibiotics may be prescribed. These help prevent or treat infection. Follow instructions when applying or giving this medicine to your child.

General care

  • Follow instructions on how to care for the animal bite. If a dressing was put on the wound, be sure to change it as directed.

  • Wash your hands well with soap and warm water before and after caring for the wound. This is to prevent spreading infection.

  • To keep the wound clean, wash it with a gentle soap and warm water.

  • If the wound bleeds, place a clean, soft cloth on the wound. Then firmly apply pressure until the bleeding stops. This may take up to 5 minutes. Don't release the pressure and look at the wound during this time.

  • Watch the wound for signs of infection (see below).

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised.

Special notes to parents

Do your best to prevent animal bites. If you're thinking about getting a family pet, pick an animal or dog breed that has a good temperament and is least likely to be a danger to children. Teach your child how to treat animals gently and with respect. This includes not going up to strange animals, and not teasing or provoking animals.

When to get medical advice

Call your child’s healthcare provider right away or get medical care right away if any of these occur:

  • Your child has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as advised by the provider

  • Bleeding that doesn’t stop after 5 minutes of firm pressure

  • Decreased ability to move any body part near the site of the animal bite

  • Signs of infection around the bite, such as soreness, warmth, redness, red streaks that spread out from the bite, swelling, or bad-smelling drainage

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as headache or fever

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