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Health Issues

Treatment for Animal Bites

Many parents assume that children are most likely to be bitten by strange or wild animals, but in fact most bites are inflicted by animals the child knows, including the family pet. Although the injury often is minor, biting does at times cause serious wounds, facial damage, and emotional problems.

If your child is bleeding from an animal bite, apply firm continuous pressure to the area for five minutes or until the blood flow stops. Then wash the wound gently with soap and water, and consult your pediatrician.

If the wound is very large, or if you cannot stop the bleeding, continue to apply pressure and call your pediatrician to find out where to take your child for treatment. If the wound is so large that the edges won’t come together, it probably will need to be sutured (stitched). Although this will help reduce scarring, in an animal bite, it increases the chance of infection, so your doctor may prescribe preventive antibiotics.

Contact your pediatrician whenever your child receives an animal bite that breaks the skin, no matter how minor the injury appears. The doctor will need to check whether your child has been adequately immunized against tetanus or might require protection against rabies. Both of these diseases can be spread by animal bites.

Like any other wound, a bite can become infected. Notify your pediatrician immediately if you see any of the following signs of infection:

  • Pus or drainage coming from the bite

  • The area immediately around the bite becoming swollen and tender (It normally will be red for two or three days, but this in itself is not cause for alarm.)

  • Red streaks that appear to spread out from the bite

  • Swollen glands above the bite

Your pediatrician may recommend antibiotic therapy for a child who has:

  • Moderate or severe bite wounds

  • Puncture wounds, especially if the bone, tendon, or joint has been penetrated

  • Facial bites

  • Hand and foot bites

  • Genital area bites

Your pediatrician may recommend a follow-up visit to inspect any wound for signs of infection within forty-eight hours.

Last Updated
Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Copyright © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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