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Animal Bites

Pets and stray animals often bite people when they feel threatened, or when infected with rabies. Animal bites may cause significant tissue damage such as a crushing injury or deep punctures, which can damage the skin, blood vessels, nerves, muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons. When the skin is broken, the wound can become contaminated by dirt, clothing, or the animal’s saliva and become infected, showing signs of warmth, swelling, pus formation, and redness possibly with streaking.

The first step to take following an animal bite is to thoroughly wash the wound using soap and water with light scrubbing, and cover the wound with a clean bandage. Most bites should be assessed by a medical professional.  Immediate attention is required when there is excessive bleeding or weakness and numbness in the area. It is necessary to contact your doctor’s office to manage any wound infection, severe tissue injury, and diseases such as rabies. Your doctor will examine the extent of tissue injury and identify signs of infection. X-rays may be ordered to identify probable fractures or embedded foreign bodies.

The wound is thoroughly irrigated with saline. Any dead tissue is removed. The area may be left open or closed with sutures depending on the location, extent of the injury, and the likelihood of infection. Bites of the hand have a high risk of infection due to decreased blood flow and are either left open or sutured after delay. As open wounds can cause scarring, it is not recommended for cosmetic areas such as the face. Antibiotics, pain medications, and a tetanus shot are usually prescribed. 

Wound care instructions will be provided following treatment. If sutures are placed, you are instructed to keep the area dry and return later for removal.

  • Yale University
  • The University of Pennsylvania
  • Cornell University
  • The University of Rochester
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • American Society for Surgery of the Hand
  • AO Trauma
  • The Student National Medical Associatio
  • The J. Robert Gladden Orthopaedic Society
  • American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery