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First Aid and Emergencies

Animal and Human Bites

Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

When bitten by an animal, most people want to know if they need a rabies shot. The main wild animal carriers of rabies are bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. Pet dogs, cats, and ferrets that have been vaccinated rarely have rabies. However, many stray animals have not been vaccinated. Rabies is quite rare, but it is fatal if not treated. The treatment is no more painful than a typical injection. Report all wild animal bites to your doctor and the local health unit or public health office.

Bites that break the skin can cause bacterial infections. Cat and human bites are particularly prone to infection. You can get tetanus from a bite if your tetanus shots are not up to date.

Prevention

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  • Vaccinate all pets against rabies. Do not keep wild animals as pets.

  • Do not disturb animals--not even your pets--while they are eating.

  • Teach children not to approach or play with stray animals.

  • Do not touch wild animals or provoke them to attack. Do not handle sick or injured animals.

Home Treatment

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  • Scrub the bite immediately with soap and water. Treat it as a puncture wound. See Puncture Wounds.

  • If you are bitten by a pet dog, cat, or ferret, find out whether the animal has been vaccinated for rabies.

  • A healthy pet that has bitten someone should be confined and observed for 10 days by a veterinarian to see if the pet develops symptoms of rabies. If the pet's owner cannot be located, contact your doctor and the local health unit or public health office.

  • If you are bitten by a wild animal, contact your doctor and the local health unit or public health office. The local health unit or public health office can tell you whether that animal is a rabies carrier in your area, and whether treatment is needed.

When to Call a Health Professional

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  • If the bite is from a wild animal.

  • If the bite is from a human or a cat.

  • If the bite is from a dog, cat, or ferret that is acting strangely and/or foaming at the mouth, or if the animal attacked for no apparent reason.

  • If the bite is from a pet whose owner cannot be found or cannot confirm that the animal has been vaccinated for rabies.

  • If the bite is severe and may need stitches or if it is on your face, hand, or foot. If stitches are needed, they usually should be done within 8 hours.

  • If signs of infection develop:

  • Increased pain, swelling, redness, or tenderness.

  • Heat or red streaks extending from the bite.

  • Discharge of pus.

  • Fever of 37.8°C (100°F) or higher with no other cause.

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