Primary Care Physician
Dr. Orrange received her BA in Biology at the University of California, San Diego, and a Masters Degree in Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. She received her MD from the USC Keck School of…
Treating Dog and Cat Bites: Act Quickly For The Best Outcome
Posted in Accidents by Dr. Sharon Orrange on Apr 08, 2011
I have seen some nasty infections from dog and cat bites in my years of practice. In 2001, more than 350,000 people were treated in US hospital emergency departments for non-fatal dog-bite-related injuries. It is important to know how to handle a dog or cat bite and when to seek help.

In the U.S. dog and cat bites comprise roughly 1% of emergency room visits annually with similar numbers reported in Europe. Dog bites cost over $1 billion per year in the USA. Roughly 60% of animal bites are related to dogs, with 10–20% attributed to cats. Cat bites are more common in women and the elderly while most dog bites occur in people less than 20 years old.

Risk of a dog bite is highest in young boys aged 5–9 years likely because children might be more likely to provoke a bite by simple play, teasing, or abuse. Due to a child’s height they often have bites to the face, neck, or head.

Cat bites are most likely to involve the hands and face, but are less destructive and life threatening. However, cats' narrow sharp teeth cause deeper puncture wounds than dogs, and tend to carry a higher risk of infection and abscess. It is important to know that patients who show up at the doctor or emergency room more than 8 hours after a bite injury often have infected wounds, with cat bites progressing to infection more rapidly than dog bites.

Most bite infections from dogs and cats contain a mix of bacteria from both the skin of the patient and the mouth of the animal. Dog and cat bites are taken seriously because severe infections related to dog and cat bites can occur in about 20% of all cases. Bacteria can enter the bloodstream, and in bites to the hands more serious joint and tissue infections can occur.

By contrast with other sites, 30–40% of hand bites become infected. Again, cat bites are more likely to penetrate deeply leaving only a small skin opening from which fluids can drain. Therefore deeper abscesses and infections in the bone (osteomyelitis) are more common with cat bites.

Treatment of the immediate injury is the best place to start. Deep wounds are at greater risk for abscess formation so I suggest you seek out medical help for prompt and generous irrigation with tap water or normal saline. While this may sound gross, careful probing for embedded teeth or fragments and cutting away dead tissues is crucial.

In the case of bites to the hand, orthopedic specialist involvement may be necessary along with elevation, immobilization, and hand physical therapy. A plastic surgeon should be called in for most head and neck bites. Interestingly, because of great blood supply, face wounds can be associated with a lower risk of infection but are of more concern for cosmetic reasons.

Here is a summary of the management and treatment of dog and cat bites, and your doctor’s office or emergency room will help guide you through it:
• Normal saline irrigation with high pressure jet from syringe

• Cut away any dead tissue and remove any foreign bodies

• X-ray if there may be a fracture

• Unless the bite is on the face, closure with sutures is not usually indicated

• Antibiotics are usually advised unless the bite is very superficial and easily cleaned (Augmentin is a good first line antibiotic and add Clindamycin or Bactrim if MRSA is a concern).

• Tetanus booster if you are not up to date

Let us know your experience.

There are two means of refuge from the misery of life - music and cats.
- Albert Schweitzer

Dr O.

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I was attacked by a german shepard badly on the arm he munched down 4-5 times, the last one being the palm of my hand. I could not move my fingers. Hand specialist did exploratory surgery and found out the dog bit my radial nerve and bit out 60% in a pie piece shape, he sewed it back together and put a tubular sheath around it. The hand surgeon said because of my age (55) it would take a year to a year and a half to regenerate, and that is a 50/50 chance. My arm hurts all the time and its getting old as it is my dominate right hand.
By stimpy  Dec 11, 2011
My Furby man freaked out. If I had been smart, I would have let him jump off of me and run to hide. But my instinct was to hold him tighter to protect him. Another BIG mistake. He bit my right hand roughly about 4 or 6 times real fast. It took seconds. He must have hit an artery because blood was literally spurting in the air. Although vets are not supposed to treat humans, they took me in the back and had my run water over my hand, then wrapped it up good and told me to go to ER right away. I didn't think much of it. The ER treated me and told me to watch for swelling/redness etc. That night I had red streaks going from the wounds clear up my arm almost to my elbow. I was hospitalized for IV medications and almost lost my arm because I am diabetic. My Furby man was scared. He had never bit me before or since. This happened about 9 years ago. He is still my precious boy. I do not blame him at all.
By KeepHoldingOn  May 05, 2011
Years ago I took my cat to the vet. He was in his cat carrier and everything seemed fine. I was the last appointment of the day, and the lady behind the counter kept commenting on how adorable Furby(my cat)was. She asked if I would take him out of the carrier. BIG MISTAKE. Furby is an indoors cat, he had never been around other animals and had only been outside to go to the vet. Anyway, I was holding him and she was petting him and oohing and awing etc. Things were fine until a man burst in the door with a screaming/barking dog that had been hit by a car. Cont. on next comment
By KeepHoldingOn  May 05, 2011
"when you have tortured an animal"? My question is in general. Seems like you are saying, please take no offense, that one should be dishonest in there reply. Anyway, that is not the situation. We are talking about non-provoked bites. Especially dogs like rotts and pits that are in the news the most often. Please do not get into the "there are no dogs violent by nature but only violent owners" debate.
By rossid  Apr 12, 2011
Yikes. My sponsor's cat either bit or scratched my hand, (I can't remember which now) and it totally swelled up badly and itched like crazy! I washed it a few times with soap and water then put Neosporin IN the wounds, and took a Benadryl. About an hour later it calmed down.

I was scared because they were both puncture wounds, not the long scratches like you get on the fly, but deeper whole puncture wounds, and I was scared because of how badly my hand swelled up, how badly it itched, and the fact that my hand went totally numb for about 10-15 minutes. Yikes!

Thank God for little things at home to do, and that I didn't have to go to the E.R.

I try to stay away from her cats more now, but it's hard because she has 8 of them, and some are crazy and will do it for no reason even if you are not touching them! Yeesh!
By flowerchildofjc  Apr 11, 2011
here are things to tell pet lovers when you have tortured an animal and it bit you:
1. I didn't do anything, they just bit me.
2. (if you were seen torturing an animal) I don't remember it that way.
3. If shouldn't matter what I do animals have to behave.
By dewounded  Apr 11, 2011
Do you put a dog down after it bites? Dog lovers often say no. Non dog people say definitely. Can you tell me objectively?
By rossid  Apr 11, 2011
I'll second Dr. Sharon in a heartbeat. One of my cats bit my husband years ago, and although he washed his hands very thoroughly right away, it was apparent within an amazingly short time that the bite (on a finger) was getting infected. The finger, turned red, swelled up, and was very painful within a couple of hours. He had to take oral antibiotics for it.
By madbookworm  Apr 10, 2011
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