Useful Tips

Animal bites


Biting an animal can happen to anyone. You can hike or camp and meet a wild animal that bites you to protect itself. Or maybe a neighbor's dog will bite you by chance during a friendly game.

Many animal species can bite adults and children. Most animal bites belong to a pet, but the following animals can also bite:

What are animal bite symptoms?

Your doctor should look at animal bites. Immediate medical attention may not always be possible, but you should get a bite checked by your doctor as soon as possible. Once a bite has occurred, it is important to be on the lookout for signs or symptoms of infection.

The following symptoms may indicate infection or the presence of debris in the wound:

  • localized redness around the wound
  • heat around the bite area
  • red stripes leading from the bite
  • fever
  • pus
  • tumor
  • pain

Why animal bites?

Animal bites can occur when the animal is provoked. Provoked bites can occur if you try to remove food while the dog is eating. They can also happen if you tease your pet.

However, in many cases, animal bites are unprovoked. Unprovoked bites can occur in the backyard. Sometimes a raccoon or squirrel can attack for some obvious reason. If this happens, the attacking animal is likely to be seriously ill.

Why is medical care critical?

If you have been bitten, you should visit your doctor immediately for several reasons. There may be a risk of infection:

  • infection, including bacteria and rabies infections
  • broken animal teeth embedded in the wound
  • foreign objects embedded in the wound
  • possible damage to the nerve and blood vessels

The following types of bites pose the greatest risk of infection and should be quickly evaluated:

  • dog bites
  • cat bites
  • wildlife bites

Diagnosis and treatment

Key facts

  • Animal bites are one of the important causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide.
  • Up to five million people in the world, mainly in Africa and Southeast Asia, are annually bitten by snakes.
  • In the case of a bite of a poisonous snake, immediate treatment with an appropriate antitoxin is required.
  • Dog bites annually lead to tens of millions of injuries, with children at greatest risk.
  • Rabies that develops after being bitten by dogs, cats, and monkeys is a significant public health problem.

Animal bites pose a significant public health problem for children and adults around the world. The health consequences of animal bites depend on the type of animal and its health, the size and health of the affected person and the availability of appropriate medical care.

Many species of animals can potentially bite people, but the biggest problem is the bites of snakes, dogs, cats and monkeys.

Magnitude of the problem

Up to five million people in the world are annually bitten by snakes. Among this number of people, poisonous snakes cause significant morbidity and mortality. An estimated 2.4 million cases of intoxication (poisoning from snakebites) and 94,000–125,000 deaths, as well as 400,000 cases of amputation and other serious health consequences such as infection, tetanus, scarring, contracture, and psychological consequences. Poor access to care and a lack of antitoxins increase the severity of injuries and their outcomes.

Who is at greatest risk?

Most snake bites occur in Africa and Southeast Asia. Snake bites are most common among people living in rural areas with limited resources, engaged in low-paid, non-mechanized cultivation of field crops and other types of agriculture. Agricultural workers, women, and children are the most commonly affected snake bites. The burden of these injuries is compounded by their socio-economic impact on families and local communities. Adult victims are often the breadwinners of the family and take care of other family members, and child victims may suffer lifelong disabilities, which incurs additional costs for families and communities.

There are approximately 600 species of poisonous snakes in the world, and approximately 50-70% of their bites lead to intoxication. Immediately after a bite, it is extremely important to ensure the complete immobilization of the affected part of the body and the immediate delivery of the victim to a medical facility. The application of tourniquets and cutting out a bite should not be used as first aid, as this can increase the effects of the poison. Often snakebite victims require antitoxin treatment. It is important that the appropriate antitoxin is used, taking into account snakes endemic to the area. Additional measures include cleansing the wound to reduce the risk of infection, supporting therapy, such as breathing support, and when discharging a tetanus vaccine if the patient is not properly vaccinated against tetanus.

Snake Bite Prevention

In order to prevent snake bites, it is necessary to inform local communities about the risks of snake bites and how to prevent them, such as:

  • Avoid high grass areas
  • wear safety shoes / boots,
  • prevent rodents from storing food products,
  • to clear the area adjacent to the house from garbage, firewood and low vegetation,
  • in houses, store food in containers that reliably protect them from rodents, arrange sleeping places at a level raised above the floor and carefully fill mosquito nets under the mattresses.

To prevent or limit the serious health consequences of snake bites, health care providers should have special training in snake bite management, including the proper use and administration of antitoxin. Public health authorities and policy-makers should ensure that they have adequate stockpiles of safe and effective antitoxins at the community, country and region levels where they are most needed and give priority to research initiatives on which the burden of such injuries will depend.

Dog Bite Prevention

Certain populations, especially children, should be informed about the risks of dog bites and how to prevent them, such as avoiding stray dogs and never leaving children unattended near any dogs.

Health care providers must receive specialized training in the proper management of dog bites. Health authorities and policymakers should monitor rabies in dog populations, create adequate stocks of rabies vaccines in the event of potential human exposure to rabies, and develop information collection systems to further document the burden of this problem.

Cat Bite Prevention

Individual communities need to be informed about the risks of cat bites and how to prevent them, including vaccinating cats against rabies.

Health care providers should receive specific training in the proper management of such injuries. Health authorities and policy makers should ensure rabies control in animal populations and adequate stocks of medicines for post-exposure treatment and prophylactic antibiotic therapy in people affected by bites. They should also support research aimed at obtaining more information about the burden of cat bites.

Monkey Bite Prevention

Individual communities and travelers should be informed of the risks of monkey bites and how to prevent them.

Health care providers should receive specific training in the proper management of such injuries. Health authorities and policy makers should ensure rabies control in monkey populations and adequate stocks of drugs for post-exposure treatment and prophylactic antibiotic therapy in people affected by bites. They should also support research aimed at obtaining more information on the burden of monkey bites.

WHO activities

WHO is addressing public health problems associated with animal bites.

With regard to snake bites, WHO has issued several methodologies to assist in the proper development, distribution and administration of antitoxins.

With regard to rabies, WHO calls for increased access to post-exposure treatment by increasing the production of biological anti-rabies drugs, to continue raising awareness of rabies prevention and control, and to conduct large-scale immunization in dog populations.

For injuries associated with animal bites, WHO does the following:

  • prioritizes data collection initiatives to help identify burdens and risk factors for such injuries,
  • calls for the strengthening of emergency medical services for those injured,
  • promotes research studies of effective measures to prevent such injuries and the most vulnerable populations.

Cat scratch disease

It is manifested by skin rashes and regional adenopathy (enlarged lymph nodes). Its causative agent is a small gram-negative bacillus, which penetrates through damaged skin, accumulates in the walls of blood vessels, causing the so-called epithelial angiomatosis. 3-5 days after receiving scratches, skin rashes appear, first erythematous, then in the form of peeling papules (less often pustules) with a diameter of 2-6 mm. After 2 weeks, hyperplasia and soreness of regional lymph nodes (axillary, submandibular, cervical, behind the ear) occur, and subsequently their necrosis with the formation of microabscesses. A general reaction can be observed in approximately half of the patients. It manifests itself as moderate fever, impaired health, headaches, anorexia. In approximately 2% of patients, the process is accompanied by encephalopathy and becomes a chronic systemic disease. In the vast majority of cases, the pathological process spontaneously regresses, and complete recovery occurs within 2-5 months.

As a rule, it is sufficient to prescribe local applications of antihistamines as a treatment, and in case of pain, pain medications, opiates and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, indomethacin, diclofenac). Antibiotic therapy is indicated for the appearance of common lymph node microabscesses.

How to bite and treat an animal bite?

Your doctor will evaluate your risk of infection, check for additional injuries, and try to minimize scarring. Post-bite exams typically include the following:

Wounds are scrutinized for debris. Your wound can be treated with a stunning agent before your doctor examines it.

Your doctor may order an X-ray to check for bone fractures. An x-ray can also help them ensure that there are no debris in the wound that is not visible during examination. Some types of foreign material, such as dirt or grass, are easy to overlook.

Your doctor will irrigate the wound to clean it properly. This is important to prevent infection. Irrigation may not always prevent infection, but it reduces the risk. A local anesthetic can be used to minimize pain.


Animal bites can lead to skin tears that cannot be restored. Removing dead or infected skin and tissues that cannot be repaired may require a procedure known as circumcision. The charm can sometimes be painful. You may need a local anesthetic for this procedure.

Wound punctures are usually not closed by sutures. But some wounds should be sutured or stitched immediately after a bite.

Wound care

Your doctor may recommend various methods for treating wounds based on the injury you received. Wounds that were sutured should be clean and dry. It is possible to use a shower, but the injury should be dried gently so as not to damage the seams. Wounds that are not sutured may require daily soaking or other procedures.

Antibiotics can be prescribed to prevent infection caused by animal bites. The following types of bites usually require antibiotics:

  • cat bites
  • debriefing wounds
  • badly infected wounds

Antibiotics are usually prescribed for the elderly or people with chronic diseases such as diabetes.

Most bite wounds can be treated with over-the-counter painkillers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. If your bite is severe, your doctor may prescribe a stronger pain medication for short-term pain relief.

How to prevent animal bites?

Reducing the risk of animal bites is quite easy. You can do this using common sense and remembering the following:

  • Avoid contact with unknown animals.
  • Never feed or try to catch wild animals such as squirrels, raccoons or rats.
  • Avoid disturbing animals that are known to take care of their children.
  • Never engage in an aggressive game with animals. A family dog ​​may accidentally bite you during a friendly tug of war game.
  • Never touch animal cages with your fingers.

If the bite is completely unprovoked or the animal does not hurt, most bites can be easily prevented.

Rabies virus

The bites of animals with rabies (an extremely serious viral disease) are of great danger. Rabies virus is secreted with the saliva of sick animals and enters the body of a victim of bites through a wound of the skin or mucous membrane. However, the neurotropic rabies virus can also penetrate the mucous membranes and damaged skin, therefore, when they come into contact with infected saliva, appropriate treatment is necessary. Most animal bites should be considered dangerous in the sense of rabies infection, as at the time of the bite, the animal may not have external signs of the disease. In dogs, rabies is more often manifested by severe excitement, dilated pupils, and an increase in anxiety. The dog can run away from home, pounce without barking and bite people and animals, swallow various inedible objects. Severe salivation and vomiting are observed. Fever is not a mandatory symptom of the disease.

After a bite, the virus along the peripheral nerves penetrates first into the spinal cord and brain, pathognomonously affecting the ammonian horn (intracytoplasmic inclusions - Negri bodies appear in its neurons), and then from there pass into the salivary glands and saliva along the efferent nerve pathways.

When assessing the risk of rabies, the following factors must be considered: the location of the bite and the severity of tissue damage, the time elapsed since the bite, and the condition of the animal that bit it. The incubation period is usually 6–8 weeks, but may be shorter or significantly longer. Its duration is inversely proportional to the amount of virus ingested. When bitten through clothes, much less viruses get into the wound than when bitten by naked skin. The more time has passed since the bite, the less time is left for effective treatment. An animal is considered rabid if there is no information about it. If the animal is killed, its corpse must be delivered to the virology laboratory, where the presence of rabies virus is quickly detected using the immunofluorescence method. If the animal is captured, it should be observed without killing. It is believed that at the time of the bite, the animal was not mad, if after 10 days it did not die.

The disease in people begins with fever, headache and numbness of the bite. Following this, spasms of the respiratory muscles and throat muscles arise, provoked by attempts to drink (fear of water). Some patients develop flaccid paralysis. Death occurs in 3-10 days from asphyxiation, exhaustion and generalized seizures.
Currently, three complementary methods are used to prevent the development of rabies in animal bites:

  • local wound treatment
  • passive immunization with human rabies immunoglobulin,
  • inducing active immunity using an rabies vaccine.

First aid for bites

When providing first aid to the victim of an animal bite, one should not strive to immediately stop the bleeding, because it helps to remove animal saliva from the wound. Рану промывают мыльным раствором, кожу вокруг нее обрабатывают раствором антисептического средства (спиртовым раствором йода, раствором марганцовокислого калия, этиловым спиртом и др.), а затем накладывают стерильную повязку. Пострадавшего доставляют в травматологический пункт или другое лечебное учреждение. Вопрос о проведении прививок против бешенства решает врач.

Чем опасны укусы животных

The greatest risk of infection is puncture wounds, i.e. those that usually remain after the bites of a cat and a person.
The source of rabies is infected dogs, cats, foxes, wolves, bats. Squirrels, rabbits and other rodents do not transmit rabies.

If possible, the behavior of a bitten animal should be monitored.
A doctor should be consulted if:

  • the child has a lot of bites or heavy bleeding - you need to call emergency care,
  • as a result of a bite, the child’s skin is torn.

Infection prevention

Cleaning the wound and adjacent skin is performed immediately as first aid with improvised means. Observe for possible signs of infection (increased redness, swelling, pain) for 24–48 hours. If signs of infection appear, consult your doctor or take your child to an emergency room.

Medical treatment of bite sites consists in re-washing the wounds, treating them with 20% soap solution, 1% solution of benzalkonium chloride (rocal). Particular attention should be paid to deep tissue punctures. They should be carefully passed with a swab moistened with an antiseptic solution (chlorhexidine, a solution of hydrogen peroxide, a solution of potassium permanganate). Suturing the bite site is contraindicated, as it contributes to the generalization of the process.

The introduction of human anti-rabies immunoglobulin is advisable for severe bites, when the incubation period may be too short to have time to develop active immunity after the vaccination course. For the same reason, immunoglobulin is used in cases where the patient later consulted a doctor. It is administered at a dose of 20 IU / kg: 1/2 dose - intramuscularly, 1/2 - infiltrate around the wound. The rabies vaccine is administered deeply under the skin, 1 ml on the 1st, 3rd, 7th, 14th, 30th and 90th day.