Treating An Animal Bite

This Summer, the coast of the Carolinas has seen more than its share of shark attacks. Although shark attacks are rare, most people have run afoul of some critter at one point or another. In the United States, there are millions of animal bites every year resulting in hundreds of thousands of ER visits. In this article, we’ll talk about the furry kind, but here are my articles on other types of bites:






Wild animals will bite when threatened, ill, or to protect their territory and offspring. Most, however, avoid humans if at all possible. In the grand majority of cases, pets like cats, dogs, and rodents are the perpetrators. Most animal bites affect the hands (in adults) and the face, head, and neck (in children).

Dog bites are responsible for 1000 emergency care visits every day in the U.S.. According to a 1994 study, dog bites are:



• 6.2 times more likely to be incurred by male dogs.
• 2.6 times more likely by dogs that haven’t been neutered.
• 2.8 times more likely if the dog is chained or otherwise restrained.
• More commonly seen in children 14 years and younger than any other age group. Boys are much more likely to be the victims.

Although more common, bog bites are usually more superficial than cat bites; A dog’s teeth are relatively dull compared to felines’. Despite this, their jaws are powerful and can inflict crush injuries to soft tissues.



Cats’ teeth are thin and sharp, and puncture wounds tend to be deeper. Any bite can lead to infection if ignored, but cat bites inject bacteria into deeper tissues and become contaminated more often. Rabies and Tetanus are just some of the infections that can be passed through a bite wound.




Whenever a person has been bitten, there are several important actions that should be taken:



• Control bleeding with direct pressure using gloves and a bandage or other barrier.



• Clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water. Flushing the wound aggressively with a 60-100 cc irrigation syringe filled with clean water will help remove embedded dirt and bacteria-containing saliva.



• Use an antiseptic to decrease the chance of infection. Betadine (2% povidone-iodine solution) or Benzalkonium Chloride (BZK) are good choices.



• When off-grid, don’t close the wound if at all possible. Many animal bites wounds are stitched closed in a modern medical facility, but this may be inadvisable in a survival setting. Any animal bite should be considered a “dirty” wound; closing the wound may lock in dangerous bacteria.



• Remove any rings or bracelets in a bite wound to the hand. If swelling occurs, they may be very difficult to remove afterwards.



• Use an ice pack to decrease swelling, bruising, and pain.



• Frequently clean and cover a recovering bite wound. Clean, drinkable water or a dilute antiseptic solution will suffice.



• Apply antibiotic ointment to the area and be sure to watch for signs of infection. These may include redness, swelling or oozing. In many instances, the site might feel unusually warm to the touch. Warm moist compresses to the area will help an infected wound drain. Learn more about infected wounds in our video on the subject.



• Consider oral antibiotics as a precaution if off-grid (especially after a cat bite). Although Amoxicillin with Clavulanic acid 500mg every 8 hours for a week is a good first line therapy, Clindamycin (veterinary equivalent: Fish-Cin) 300mg orally every 6 hours and Ciprofloxacin (Fish-Flox) 500 mg every 12 hours in combination are also good choices. Azithromycin, Metronidazole (Fish-Zole) and Ampicillin-Sulbactam have been used as alternatives.

Children who suffer animal bites may become traumatized by the experience and benefit from counseling. Youngsters should be informed about the risks of animal bites and taught to avoid stray dogs, cats, and wild animals. Never leave a small child unattended around animals: Without an able-bodied person to intervene, the outcome may be tragic.

It is important to remember that humans are animals, too. In rare cases, you might see bites from this source as well. Approximately 10-15% of human bites become infected, due to the fact that there are over 100 million bacteria per milliliter in human saliva. Treat as you would any contaminated wound.

Disclaimer: All content in this article is meant to be informational in nature, and does not constitute medical advice. It is not meant to serve as a replacement for evaluation and treatment by a qualified medical professional.


Joe Alton, MD


Learn more about animal bites and many other medical issues you’d encounter off-the-grid in The Survival Medicine Handbook, with over 200 5-star reviews on Amazon!

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