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Treatment for Dog and Cat Bites and Scratches

How to deal with dog or cat bites and scratches

When your child is bitten or scratched by an animal, be calm and reassure your child that you can help. Your child's healthcare provider will determine specific treatment for an animal bite. Treatment may include:

For shallow bites from a household pet that is immunized and in good health:

  • Wash the wound with soap and water under pressure from a faucet for at least 5 minutes. Don’t scrub as this may bruise the tissue. Apply an antiseptic lotion or cream.

  • Watch for signs of infection. These include fever, increased redness or pain, and swelling, or fluid leaking, or red streaks from the bite. Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur.

For deeper bites or puncture wounds from any animal, or for any bite from an unknown animal:

  • If the bite or scratch is bleeding, apply pressure to it with a clean bandage, cloth, or towel to stop the bleeding. If bleeding doesn't stop after 15 minutes of pressure, call your healthcare provider.

  • Wash the wound with soap and water under pressure from a faucet for at least 5 minutes. Don’t scrub as this may bruise the tissue.

  • Dry the wound and cover it with a sterile dressing. Don’t use tape or butterfly bandages to close the wound. This could trap harmful bacteria in the wound.

  • Call your child's healthcare provider for help in reporting the attack and to decide if more treatment is needed. This may include antibiotics, a tetanus booster, rabies vaccine, or repair of the wound with stitches. This is very important for bites on the face or for bites that cause deeper skin puncture wounds. It is important to tell your child's healthcare provider about all cat bites, especially around the hands and wrist. These injuries are known for often causing infection.

  • If possible, find the animal that caused the wound. Some animals need to be captured, confined, and closely watched for rabies. Don’t try to capture the animal yourself. Instead, contact the nearest animal warden or animal control office in your area.

  • If the animal can't be found or is a high-risk species (raccoon, skunk, or bat), or the animal attack was unprovoked, your child may need a series of rabies shots.

Call your child's healthcare provider for any flu-like symptoms after an animal bite. These symptoms may include fever, headache, ill feeling, loss of appetite, or swollen glands.

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Tara Novick BSN MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2023
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