Animal Bites – Dog & Cat
Over 250,000 people attend A&E or minor treatment centres in the UK each with animal bites. The vast majority (over 80%) are dog bites, followed by cat bites (around 15%) then human bites (5%). Dogs, cats and humans all have a variety of bacteria in their mouths and as a result any wound inflicted by a bite is prone to infection.
The first priority is to assess the severity of the wound. If it is very deep, there are multiple significant injuries or there is excessive bleeding, the wound requires urgent medical assessment by a doctor or nurse. Otherwise the wound should be cleaned at home before seeking medical aid.
Bites are invariably very dirty wounds due to the bacteria in animal's mouths. Even extremely superficial wounds should be thoroughly washed under a warm tap for around 5 minutes. This will significantly reduce the chance of a wound infection. It is best to avoid using soap or antiseptic solutions as these can potential damage the tissues and adversely affect healing. Deeper wounds will most likely need washout by a medical professional.
After washing the wound, cover it with a sterile, non-sticky dressing if available before heading to A&E. This keeps the wound clean and prevents contamination with any other bacteria on your journey to hospital.
Unless the wound is extremely superficial, seek medical attention. Dog bites have a tendency to crush and lacerate soft tissues and can cause underlying damage to bone, tendons or ligaments. Cat bites often seem quite superficial, but due to the narrow bore of their teeth, the wounds can penetrate quite deep and therefore introduce infection deep in the soft tissues. All deep wounds need extensive cleaning and assessment.
If there is a significant open wound, the edges are often ragged and, particularly if there is a delay in seeking treatment, the skin may be dead or damaged. This may need 'debridement'(trimming), to reduce the risk of infection and scarring. Bite wounds are often left open for a while, so do not be alarmed if it is not stitched closed. This is to allow drainage and to prevent closure with infection inside. Any significant wound can be covered with a sterile dressing, then reassessed and closed a few days down the line.
There is currently no Rabies in the UK, but if you are bitten abroad, it is important you check immediately with a travel specialist regarding that area. If you are not up to date with Tetanus, you may require a booster after a bite, however.
Due to the infection risk, a good washout of the wound is not always enough and your doctor may want you to take a course of antibiotics, particularly if it is a penetrating wound or on the hands/feet. It is important you complete the course of antibiotics.
After any bite, keep a close eye on the wound. Watch out for increasing pain, redness, swelling or fever. If any of these features develop or you start developing any other symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
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