• Animal Bites

    Any animal that has teeth, whether domesticated (e.g., pets or livestock) or wild, can be the source of a bite wound. When the animal is unknown to the person (e.g., a stray or wild animal), rabies may be a concern.

    Signs and Symptoms of Animal Bites

    Animal bites may result in bruising, breaks in the skin or both. Open wounds, such as the avulsion wounds and lacerations often caused by dog bites, may be accompanied by a great deal of bleeding. Puncture wounds, such as those often caused by cat bites, typically do not bleed as much.

    Emergency Steps


    Check scene safety, form an initial impression, obtain consent and put on PPE, as appropriate.


    Check for signs and symptoms.

    • Open, deep, extensive wound*
    • Puncture wound*
    • Blood volume equal to about half a soda can (less in a small child or infant)*
    • Blood flowing continuously or spurting*
    • Bite from stray or wild animal*
    • Bruising
    • Break in skin or open wound with little bleeding

    *Note: Signs and symptoms with an * require immediate emergency medical treatment.


    Call 9-1-1 and get equipment if the person requires immediate emergency medical treatment.


    Give Care.

    General Care

    1. If a bite has caused life-threatening bleeding, give care for life-threatening external bleeding.
    2. If bite has broken through the skin:
      1. Take person to a healthcare provider or tell them to seek medical care.
      2. Antibiotics, rabies vaccine or tetanus shot may be necessary.
    3. If bite has caused a minor wound (e.g., scratches or bruising) and skin is not broken completely through, give care for the wound.
    4. Continue checking them as appropriate to determine if additional care is needed.
    5. Keep them from getting cold or overheated.
    6. Give care for shock, if necessary.
    7. Position the person as appropriate.
    8. Reassure them you will help and that EMS has been called (if appropriate).
    9. Watch for changes in condition, including breathing and responsiveness, and give care as appropriate and trained.

    Minor Wounds

    1. Use direct pressure to stop and minor bleeding.
    2. Clean wound with soap and water.
    3. Flush wound with soap and water.
    4. Apply antibiotic ointment, cream or gel if no known allergies or sensitivities.
    5. Apply ice and/or assist with administering ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain, bruising or swelling.
    6. Tell them to monitor the wound for healing.
      1. Have them contact their healthcare provider for signs of infection (fever, pus or redness or red streaks)

    Animal Bite FAQs

    What is rabies?

    Rabies is a serious infection that attacks the brain and spinal cord and causes death if it is not treated. Animals with rabies may:

    • Act strangely/aggressively/strangely quiet
    • Drool
    • Appear to be partially paralyzed

    Call 9-1-1 or tell someone to do so if a person is bitten by an animal that could have rabies. Try to remember details about the animal’s behavior and appearance, and where you last saw it. A series of vaccine injections are needed to build up immunity to fight against rabies.

    Should I be worried about domestic animal bites?

    The bites from domestic and wild animals can cause infection, bleeding and soft tissue injury. Both can carry and transmit rabies to an unvaccinated person.

    What if blood soaks through the original dressing while I’m applying direct pressure to the bite wound?

    If blood soaks through the original gauze pad, you do not need to do anything, but you can put another gauze pad on top. Replace the new gauze pad as necessary if blood soaks through the pads. Do not remove the original gauze pad and do not stack multiple gauze pads.

    How long should I apply direct pressure for an animal bite with life-threatening bleeding?

    Hold direct pressure on a life-threatening bleeding animal bite until:

    • The bleeding stops.
    • A tourniquet is applied (for life-threatening bleeding from an arm or leg) and the bleeding has stopped.
    • Another person relieves you.
    • You are too exhausted to continue.
    • The situation becomes unsafe.

    What other medical treatment may be needed for an animal bite?

    More treatment may be needed for any animal bite that breaks the skin. Antibiotics may be needed to prevent infection. There is a risk of rabies infection from the bite of many wild animals (especially bats) and any stray dog or cat. A rabies vaccine may be necessary. In addition, a tetanus shot often may be necessary in these cases.

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