Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Cat and Dog
How should I take care of a bite
from a cat or a dog?
Here are some things you should do to take care
of a wound caused by a cat or dog bite:
- Wash the wound gently with soap and water.
- Apply pressure with a clean towel to the injured
part to stop the bleeding.
- Apply a sterile bandage to the wound.
- Keep the injury elevated above the level of the
heart to slow swelling and prevent infection.
- Report the incident to the proper authority in
your community (for example, animal control office or police).
- Apply antibiotic ointment to the area 2 times
every day until it heals.
Should I call my
doctor if I've been bitten by a cat or a dog?
Call your doctor in any of these situations:
- You have a cat bite. Cat bites often cause
infection. You don't need to call your doctor for a cat scratch, unless you
think the wound is infected.
- You have a dog bite on your hand, foot or head,
or you have a bite that is deep or gaping.
- You have diabetes, liver or lung disease, cancer,
acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), or another condition that could
weaken your ability to fight infection.
- You have any signs of infection, such as redness,
swelling, warmth, increased tenderness, oozing of pus from the wound, or fever.
- You have bleeding that doesn't stop after 15
minutes of pressure or you think you may have a broken bone, nerve damage or
another serious injury.
last tetanus shot (vaccine) was more than 5 years ago. (If so, you may need
a booster shot.)
What will my doctor do?
Here are some things your doctor may do to treat
a cat or dog bite:
- Examine the wound for possible nerve or tendon
damage, or bone injury. He or she will also check for signs of infection.
- Clean the wound with a special solution and
remove any damaged tissue.
- May use stitches to close a bite wound, but often
the wound is left open to heal, so the risk of infection is lowered.
- May prescribe an antibiotic to prevent infection.
- May give you a tetanus shot if you had your last
shot more than 5 years ago.
- May ask you to schedule an office visit to check
your wound again in 1 to 2 days.
- If your injury is severe, or if the infection has
not gotten better even though you're taking antibiotics, your doctor may suggest
that you see a specialist and/or go to the hospital, where you can get special
medicine given directly in your veins (intravenous antibiotics) and further
treatment if necessary.
Will I need a
Probably not. Rabies is uncommon in dogs and
cats in the United States. If a dog or cat that bit you appeared to be healthy
at the time of the bite, it's unlikely that the animal had rabies. However, it's
a good idea to take some precautions if you're bitten by a dog or cat.
If you know the owner of the dog or cat that bit
you, ask for the pet's vaccination record (record of shots). An animal that
appears healthy and has been vaccinated should still be quarantined (kept away
from people and other animals) for 10 days to make sure it doesn't start showing
signs of rabies. If the animal gets sick during the 10-day period, a
veterinarian will test it for rabies. If the animal does have rabies, you will
need to get a series of rabies shots (see below).
If the animal is a stray, or you can't find the
owner of the dog or cat that bit you, call the animal control agency or health
department in your area. They will try to find the animal so it can be tested
If the animal control agency or health
department can't find the animal that bit you, if the animal shows signs of
rabies after the bite, or if a test shows that the animal has rabies, your
doctor will probably want you to get a series of rabies shots (also called
postexposure prophylaxis). You need to get the first shot as soon as possible
after the bite occurs. After you receive the first shot, your doctor will give
you 5 more shots over a 28-day period.
How can I prevent cat and dog bites?
Here are some things you can do to prevent
- Never leave a young child alone with a pet.
- Do not try to separate fighting animals.
- Avoid sick animals and animals that you don't
- Leave animals alone while they're eating.
- Keep pets on a leash when in public.
- Select your family pet carefully, and be sure to
keep your pet's vaccinations (shots) up-to-date.