Animal bites account for about 1% of emergency rooms visits in a year, with dog bites being the most prevalent. Most bites are minor, but complications can occur in even minor bites due to the possibility of introducing bacteria into the wound. Thoroughly cleaning the wound and applying antibiotic ointment is important to prevent infection, which is the greatest risk with animal bites.
What should I do if a dog bites me?
For minor bites that only cause scrapes or shallow lacerations, cleaning the wound thoroughly at home with warm water and soap is fine. Once clean, apply antibiotic ointment and keep it covered. Because of the nature of animals’ jaws, the bite could involve puncture wounds, tearing, or crushing that may damage bones, joints, or tendons. These more serious injuries will likely require medical attention.
When should I see a doctor for a bite?
You should seek out immediate medical attention for more severe injuries that involve tears, lacerations, punctures, or crush injuries, such as for bites that:
- Will not stop bleeding after 15 minutes of applied pressure
- Are located on the hands, feet, neck, head, or face
- Have injured any bones, joints, or tendons
- Have happened to a person with a weakened immune system
- Are showing signs of infection
Severe cuts and lacerations may require stitching, and bone, joint, or tendon injuries will require imaging. In addition, for bites that have broken the skin, you may be prescribed antibiotics, need a tetanus shot, and be assessed for risk of rabies (which is extremely rare in the US, but may be needed if the animal is feral).
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