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Dogs

Dogs
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Animal and human bites

Being bitten is a common cause of injury. Any animal can bite, including pets, wild animals and humans. The most common types of animal bites are dog and cat bites. Human bites are also very common.

Usually bites are minor, but infections can occur if the skin is broken and bacteria from the saliva (spit) of the animal or human that has bitten you, is passed into your bloodstream.

Bites often result in the following type of injuries:

Bites can be very painful and uncomfortable. You should pay close attention for signs of an infection developing.

Signs of an infection include:

  • swelling
  • redness
  • increasing tenderness around the bite
  • the wound gets more painful
  • discharge from the wound
  • swollen lymph nodes (especially in the neck, armpits or groin)
  • shivers or developing a high temperature (over 38°C ).

Learn more about bacterial infections, such as tetanus, or how to treat minor wounds or cuts from bites in the ‘treatment and self care’ section below.

Check your symptoms with healthdirect’s Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

Dog bites

Most dog bites are caused either by a family pet or a dog that belongs to someone you know, such as a neighbour. Dogs can bite anybody, but dog bites are statistically most common among five to nine year old children.

Dog bites can happen if the dog:

  • is provoked, stressed or frightened
  • is looking after puppies and gets disturbed
  • is unwell or in pain
  • is disturbed whilst eating or asleep
  • becomes too excited during play
  • is young.

Bites from dogs typically cause a puncture wound in the skin, as well as lacerations (jagged cuts) and abrasions (scrapes or grazes). Adults are usually bitten on the hands, arms, feet or legs. Children are more likely to be bitten on the face – around the lips, cheek or nose.

Cat bites

Cat bites usually cause only minor injuries but they tend to increase the risk of an infection developing. However, because cats have smaller and sharper teeth this can cause very deep puncture wounds, which can sometimes, reach down to the bone.

Cat bites generally occur on the upper limbs (arms and hands) but children may also be bitten on the face and neck.

Learn more about bacterial infections, such as tetanus, or how to treat minor wounds or cuts from bites in the ‘treatment and self care’ section below.

Bat bites

Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) belong to a group of viruses called lyssaviruses. ABLV occurs in Australia and is transmitted from bats to humans. Only three cases of the ABLV have been recorded since the virus was first identified in 1996. All three cases were in Queensland and were fatal. It must be stressed that this is very rare.

The early symptoms are flu-like, including headache, fever and fatigue.

The best prevention from being exposed from the ABLV is to avoid handling any bat in Australia. Only people who have been vaccinated against ABLV and who have been trained in the care of bats should ever handle bats or flying foxes.

Anyone who comes across an injured bat should contact the local Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES) network on 1300 094 737.

If you are bitten or scratched by a bat in Australia you should:

  • immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water for at least five minutes
  • apply an antiseptic solution or alcohol gel after washing.

Human bites

Most injuries from human bites occur during fights including when a person punches someone in the teeth and a small piece of tooth is broken by the fist. However, they may also happen during:

  • contact sports such as rugby or football
  • accidental play-fighting.

Some people are also more prone to biting than others, such as people with learning difficulties, toddlers and young children.

Being bitten by a human can very occasionally result in a serious bacterial infection. Blood borne viruses such as hepatitis B and C, and HIV are extremely unlikely to be transmitted by bites, however a few people around the world appear to have been infected this way. You, and the person who caused your injury, may need to take a blood test to screen for hepatitis B or C or HIV, so that early treatment can commence if exposure to the viruses has occurred.

There is also a possibility that during a fist fight that broken tooth debris is lodged in the skin, and so an x-ray may be needed.

Treatment and self care

Serious bites

If part of the body is bitten off, follow this advice if possible:

  • carefully wash the body part that has been bitten off with tap water
  • place the part in a plastic bag or container which can be securely sealed
  • put the bag or container into iced water (do not place directly onto a block of ice) to keep it cool, as it may be possible to reattach the body part with surgery
  • go to your local emergency department immediately, taking the bag or container with you.

Tetanus

Tetanus is a serious bacterial infection that releases toxins into the blood stream and can be fatal. If you have been bitten by an animal and the skin is broken it may be recommended by your healthcare professional that you have a tetanus booster injection.

Treating minor wounds or cuts from bites

You can easily treat a minor wound or cut by following the instructions above. However, a larger or more serious wound or cut will need medical attention.

A wound or cut is considered to be deep if tendons or other internal parts can be seen. A gaping wound is one where the edges of the cut cannot be pulled back together.

If the wound is still bleeding:

  • cover it with a clean cloth then apply pressure with the palm of your hand, then keep the pressure on the wound for 15 minutes
  • apply pressure directly over the affected area with a pad made from a clean, rolled up piece of material such as a handkerchief or towel which should be dampened with clean water if possible, as this will reduce the amount of blood soaked up by the material
  • use a bandage to wrap around the pad or dressing. Do not wrap the bandage too tightly as it may affect the circulation
  • if the bleeding is very heavy, it may seep through the bandage. You should use a second dressing to cover the first one
  • if the bleeding continues through both bandages and pads, remove the second bandage only and apply a new one
  • do not look at the wound to see if it has stopped bleeding, in case removing the pressure causes it to start bleeding again.

If the wound is not bleeding:

  • rinse under running water for two minutes. It might be easier for you to rinse your injury with a shower head, if possible. Pat dry with a clean cloth, then cover the wound with a dry, sterile, non-sticky dressing to help prevent infection
  • check the area daily for signs of infection such as increasing pain, redness, swelling or yellow discharge
  • if you have not had a full course of tetanus immunisation or if your boosters are not up to date contact your doctor.
  • if you are in pain, get advice on medicines you can take from a pharmacist or a doctor.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your bite from an animal or human, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: July 2015

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