Animal bites are common. Most are caused by dogs and cats. Cat bites can look minor, but they can be serious because a fang puncture can leave bacteria deep in the wound.

These guidelines can help you care for a minor animal bite, such as one that only breaks the skin:

  • Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Apply an antibiotic cream and cover the bite with a clean bandage.

Seek prompt attention if:

  • The wound is a deep puncture or you're not sure how serious it is.
  • The skin is badly torn and bleeding significantly — first apply pressure with a bandage or clean cloth to stop the bleeding.
  • You notice increasing swelling, redness, pain or oozing, which are warning signs of infection.
  • You have questions about your risk of rabies or about rabies prevention. If the bite was caused by a cat or a dog, try to confirm that its rabies vaccination is up to date. If the bite was caused by a wild animal, seek advice from your doctor about which animals are most likely to carry rabies.

    Bats often carry rabies. And people have been infected without obvious signs of a bite. This is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people in contact with bats — or even those who are sleeping and awaken to find a bat in the bedroom — seek medical advice about rabies shots, even if they don't think they've been bitten.

  • You haven't had a tetanus shot in the past five years and the wound is deep or dirty. You may need a booster shot.
Nov. 25, 2014