Tests & Procedures Index



Treatment for Dog and Cat Bites and Scratches

How to respond to dog or cat bites and scratches

When your child is bitten or scratched by an animal, remain calm and reassure your child that you can help. Specific treatment for an animal bite will be determined by your child's doctor. Treatment may include:

  • 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, or drainage, or if your child develops a fever. Call your child's doctor or health care provider right away if any of these 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. Do not use tape or butterfly bandages to close the wound as this could trap harmful bacteria in the wound.
    • Call your child's doctor or health care provider for help in reporting the attack and to decide if 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, your child may need a series of rabies shots.

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

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Last reviewed: 4/29/2013