Animal Bites and Rabies

What are the dangers of animal bites?

Animal bites and scratches, even when they are minor, can become infected and spread bacteria to other parts of the body. Whether the bite is from a family pet or an animal in the wild, scratches and bites can carry disease. Cat scratches, even from a kitten, can carry "cat scratch disease," a bacterial infection. Other animals can transmit rabies and tetanus. Bites that break the skin are even more likely to become infected.

What is the care for animal bites?

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

  • Wash the wound with soap and water under pressure from a faucet for at least five minutes, but do not scrub, as this may bruise the tissue. Apply an antiseptic lotion or cream.

  • Watch for signs of infection at the site, such as increased redness or pain, swelling, drainage, or if the person develops a fever. Call your physician or health care provider right away if any of these symptoms occur.

For deeper bites or puncture wounds from any animal, or for any bite from a strange animal:

  • If the bite or scratch is bleeding, apply pressure to it with a clean bandage or towel to stop the bleeding.

  • Wash the wound with soap and water under pressure from a faucet for at least five minutes, but do not scrub as this may bruise the tissue.

  • Dry the wound and cover it with a sterile dressing, but do not use tape or butterfly bandages to close the wound as this could trap harmful bacteria in the wound.

  • Call your physician or health care professional for guidance in reporting the attack and to determine whether additional treatment, such as antibiotics, a tetanus booster, or rabies vaccination is needed. This is especially important for bites on the face, or for bites that cause deeper puncture wounds of the skin.

  • If possible, locate the animal that inflicted the wound. Some animals need to be captured, confined, and observed for rabies. Do not try to capture the animal yourself; instead, contact the nearest animal warden or animal control office in your area.

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

Call your physician or health care provider for any flu-like symptoms such as a fever, headache, malaise, decreased appetite, or swollen glands following an animal bite.

What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral infection of certain warm-blooded animals and is caused by a virus in the Rhabdoviridae family. It attacks the nervous system and, once symptoms develop, is 100 percent fatal in animals, if left untreated.

In North America, rabies occurs primarily in skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and bats. In some areas, these wild animals infect domestic cats, dogs, and livestock. In the U.S., cats are more likely than dogs to be rabid.

Individual states maintain information about animals that may carry rabies. It is best to check for region-specific information if you are unsure about a specific animal and have been bitten.

How does rabies occur?

The rabies virus enters the body through a cut or scratch, or through mucous membranes (such as the lining of the mouth and eyes), and travels to the central nervous system. Once the infection is established in the brain, the virus travels down the nerves from the brain and multiplies in different organs.

The salivary glands and organs are most important in the spread of rabies from one animal to another. When an infected animal bites another animal, the rabies virus is transmitted through the infected animal's saliva. Scratches by claws of rabid animals are also dangerous because these animals lick their claws.

What are the symptoms of rabies?

The incubation period in humans from the time of exposure to the onset of illness can range anywhere from five days to more than a year, although the average incubation period is about two months. The following are the most common symptoms of rabies. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:



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