An animal bite can result in a break in the skin, a bruise, or a puncture wound. Some animals inject venom into the patient's skin when they bite. Venomous bites can be potentially deadly if left untreated.
Animals most likely to bite humans include dogs, cats, snakes, bats, raccoons, and other rodents. Jellyfish can also sting humans by injecting their venom into the patient's skin.
Some bites require medical treatment, such as stitches or antibiotics to treat infections.
Some snakes are poisonous and release venom when they bite the flesh. Individuals who are bitten by snakes should seek immediate medical treatment because bites may cause death if left untreated.
Some animals carry a potentially fatal disease called rabies. Therefore, individuals who are bitten by unvaccinated animals or animals that are not their own should seek immediate medical treatment. They will receive rabies shots to prevent the disease from developing.
Some individuals can develop serious allergic reactions, called anaphylaxis, after an animal bite or sting. This occurs when a patient is allergic to the animal's saliva or venom. Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, and loss of unconsciousness. Anaphylaxis is life threatening and must be treated immediately with a medication called epinephrine.
If treated properly, most victims of animal bites completely recover. Bites should be cleaned with antibacterial soup or a disinfectant (such as povidone/iodine solutions, pads, or swabs) immediately after the bite to help prevent an infection.
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dog and cat bites
Overview: Pets, especially dogs and cats, are the most common cause of animal bites. Although dog bites are more common than cat bites, cat bites are more likely to cause infections because they have longer and sharper teeth that can potentially produce deeper wounds. Dog bites usually cause a crushing-type wound because of their rounded teeth and strong jaws.
Individuals should not assume that their pet dogs or cats would never bite them. All animals are capable of biting humans. The animal may be the patient's pet, a friend or stranger's pet, or a stray animal.
A dog or cat bite may or may not be provoked. Older animals are typically less tolerant of disturbances, such as tugging the animal's ears. In many cases, a dog or cat will warn a person if they feel threatened. For instance, dogs may growl while cats may hiss.
Symptoms: A dog or cat bite may cause the skin to break with or without bleeding. Others may have a puncture-type wound, which means the animal's teeth pierced small holes into the skin. Dogs are more likely to cause major cuts, bruising, or crushing injuries that may break bones.
Infections may develop if the wound is not properly cleaned. Symptoms of an infection may include fever, swelling, increased pain, and redness.
Cats may also carry cat scratch disease. Although this infection does not affect cats, it can be transmitted to humans if they are bitten. Infected humans may experience enlarged lymph nodes, fever, headache, fatigue, abdominal pain, bone or joint pain, and decreased appetite.
Cats or dogs can potentially transmit a disease called rabies if they are not vaccinated. Rabies is a rare, but potentially deadly disease. Animals that are rabid may be foaming at the mouth or behaving strangely. They may be less afraid of humans than normal. To be safe, individuals who are bitten by an animal that is not their own should seek immediate medical treatment because once symptoms of rabies develop, it is almost always fatal. Humans infected with rabies may develop a fever, general feelings of discomfort, insomnia, confusion, seeing or hearing things that are not there, difficulty swallowing, agitation, convulsions, and fear of water.
Treatment: If the bite is not bleeding, the patient should wash the wound thoroughly with soap and warm water. To help prevent infection, the wound should be covered with an antibiotic ointment and a clean dressing, such as a band-aid.
If the bite is bleeding, the patient should apply pressure onto the wound with a clean, dry cloth until the bleeding stops. Elevating the area that was bitten will also help slow the bleeding. Once bleeding slows or stops, the wound should be cleaned with soap and water and covered with a clean dressing. If bleeding does not stop or the wound is deep, patients should go to the emergency department of a nearby hospital because the patient may need stitches.
If the bite site is extremely painful and causes significant swelling and pain, the patient should visit the emergency department of the nearest hospital. Once at the hospital, an X-ray may be taken to determine if any bones are broken. Patients who have broken bones may need to wear a cast or brace for several weeks.
All bite wounds should be observed for 24 to 48 hours for signs of infection, such as swelling, increased pain, redness, and pus. If symptoms of infection develop, patients should go to the emergency department of a nearby hospital for treatment. Patients will receive drugs called antibiotics to fight off the infection. Cat scratch disease usually resolves on its own. However, antibiotics may be needed if the patient experiences a fever for several days or the lymph nodes stay painful and swollen for more than two or three months.
If it is unknown if the animal has received a rabies vaccination, the patient should go to the nearest hospital to receive a rabies vaccine. The vaccination consists of three injections over the course of several weeks. The vaccination will prevent rabies from developing in the patient. However, treatment is almost never effective once symptoms of rabies have developed. Individuals should notify animal control authorities if a stray animal bit them. If the animal that bit the patient is caught and has rabies, it will be euthanized to prevent further injuries.
Prevention: Most animals only attack when they are provoked or feel threatened. However, some may attack for no known reason.
Animals who are new mothers are extremely protective of their young. Approach new mothers cautiously.
Do not pet a stranger's dog or cat without asking the owner if the animal is friendly.
When meeting a new dog or cat, individuals should crouch down to the animal's level and hold out a hand for the animal to smell.
Do not pet a dog that is wearing a muzzle. This is a sign that the dog may be aggressive.
Do not pet a dog if it growls or its fur is standing on end. These are warning signs that the dog feels threatened and may attack.
Do not pet a cat if it hisses or if its fur is standing on end. These are warning signs that the cat feels threatened and may attack.
Teach children not to provoke or tease animals. For instance, individuals should not tug on an animal's ears or tail. They should not hit or jump on the animal. Some animals may not like to be held. Do not try to take away an animal's food when they are eating. Young children should be closely supervised when spending time with animals.
Individuals should make sure their pets are up-to-date with their rabies shots.
Snakebites can be potentially deadly, even if the snake is not poisonous. Patients can die from an infection or allergic reaction caused by a non-venomous snakebite. Poisonous snakebites are medical emergencies that are potentially fatal if not treated immediately. Children have an increased risk of dying from poisonous snakebites because they are smaller than adults.
It is estimated that nearly 8,000 Americans are bitten by poisonous snakes each year. Non-venomous snakes bite even more people. However, if treated quickly and properly, most patients who are bitten by venomous or non-venomous snakes can expect to fully recover.
Most snake bites occur outdoors, especially during the summer months. People may be exposed to snakes when they are camping, hiking, picnicking, or gardening. Snakes are often found in tall grass, under rocks, and under tree stumps because these habitats offer protection from predators. In some areas of the country with high snake populations, such as Arizona, snakes may even enter the home. Even a non-venomous pet snake may bite its owner.
Snakes bite when they feel threatened or surprised. However, most snakes will move away from humans, and they will only bite as a last resort.
Identifying poisonous snakes: There are many poisonous snakes. Some of the most common include rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, copperheads, and coral snakes.
Rattlesnakes make a distinctive rattling sound with their tails when they feel threatened. This is a warning sign that the snake may try to bite if the person does not back away. Rattlesnakes have a triangular-shaped head, and they are often found near barns, garbage, livestock, plywood, and in areas that have high mice populations.
Cottonmouths are difficult to identify because they range in color from coppery brown to black to greenish, and they can be solid-colored, blotchy-patterned, or have bands of colors. These snakes have a white stripe along the side of their triangular-shaped head. Young cottonmouths have bright, sulfur-yellow tails. These snakes are most likely to be found near water.
Copperheads look similar to cottonmouths, except they have much brighter colors that range from coppery brown to bright orange, silver-pink, and peach. These snakes are often found in wooded or hilly areas, and they are often attracted to shady areas, such as tall grass or under rocks.
Coral snakes are distinctly colored. They are black, yellow, and red, with a solid black band on the face, and a bright yellow head. These snakes are often found in the southern and eastern parts of the United States. People do not usually encounter coral snakes because they spend much of their lives underground, and they are most active at night. Although coral snakes rarely bite humans, individuals should still stay far away from them.
Symptoms: Symptoms of a poisonous snakebite vary depending on the specific snake. In general, symptoms may include bleeding, bloody discharge from the wound, fang marks in the skin, swelling at the site of the bite, severe localized pain, diarrhea, burning, convulsions, fainting, dizziness, weakness, blurred vision, excessive sweating, fever, increased thirst, loss of muscle coordination, nausea, vomiting, numbness and tingling, increased heartbeat, and dead skin or blistering near the bite site.
Symptoms of a non-poisonous bite may include bleeding, fang marks, pain, swelling at the bite site, and tenderness. Patients who develop these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.
Some individuals may develop allergic reactions after being bitten by a non-venomous snake. Symptoms may include difficulty breathing, chest pain, hives, nausea, vomiting, throat tightness, dizziness, and loss of consciousness. Patients who develop these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.
If a non-venomous snakebite is not properly treated, an infection may develop. Signs of an infection include swelling, increased pain, redness, and fever.
Treatment: Patients should call for emergency assistance immediately after being bitten by a snake, even if it is suspected that the snake is non-poisonous. While waiting for help, the patient should wash the bite site with soap and water and rest the area that was bitten. Any constrictive items on the affected area, such as rings or bracelets, should be removed because the affected area may swell.
Do not use a tourniquet or apply ice.
If a victim is unable to reach medical care within 30 minutes, the American Red Cross recommends that the patient apply a bandage to the wound and wrap a bandage two to four inches above the bite, to help slow the venom. The bandage should be loose enough to slip a finger under it. A suction device, such as a snakebite kit, which is available at most hiking stores, can be placed over the bite to help draw venom out of the wound without making cuts. Do not try to remove the venom without a snake kit.
Poisonous snakebites are usually treated with a drug called an antivenin. This drug is an antidote to the snake's venom. There are many types of antivenin, each corresponding to a different kind of snakebite. This is because each snake's venom is made up of different chemicals. In some cases, the snakebite will kill the tissue near the bite mark. In such cases, the dead tissue may need to be surgically removed.
If an infection develops, the patient will receive drugs called antibiotics. These drugs kill the bacteria that cause the infection.
If a patient develops an allergic reaction to the snakebite, epinephrine is given. This medicine helps open the breathing tubes, making it easier for the patient to breathe. The drug also constricts the blood vessels, which increases blood pressure. Patients who experience anaphylaxis may also be admitted to the hospital to have their blood pressure monitored and possibly to receive breathing support. Other emergency interventions may also involve placing a tube through the nose or mouth and into the airway (a procedure called endotracheal intubation) or emergency surgery to place a tube directly into the trachea (called tracheostomy or cricothyrotomy).
Prevention: Most snake bites occur when an individual is outdoors. Individuals who are hiking, camping, or biking in areas where there may be snakes should carry a cell phone and travel in groups. If a snake bites one person, someone else can go for help.
Individuals who spend a lot of time in the woods, such as frequent hikers or campers, should consider purchasing snakebite kits, which are available at most hiking supply stores.
Know where snakes live and what they look like.
Leave snakes alone. Many people are bitten because they try to kill or capture a snake or get too close.
Avoid areas where snakes may be hiding, such as under rocks and logs. Avoid walking through tall grass, unless wearing thick boots.
Do not stray from hiking paths or trails.
Individuals should always look where they are stepping or reaching when outside.
Patients with a history of anaphylaxis should carry an auto-injectable epinephrine, called an EpiPen®. If symptoms of anaphylaxis develop, the patient injects the medication in the thigh. Once an EpiPen® is used, patients should immediately seek follow-up care at a nearby hospital.
wild animal bites
Overview: Wild animals, such as raccoons, bats, squirrels, foxes, and other rodents may also bite humans. Wild animal bites are generally more dangerous than domestic animal bites because wild animals may carry diseases, including rabies.
Rabies is deadly if not treated immediately. Once symptoms develop, the condition is almost always fatal.
Animals that have rabies may foam at the mouth, behave strangely, or act confused. They may be also be less afraid of humans than normal. For instance, if a raccoon is active during the day, this is a sign that it may have rabies because raccoons are normally nocturnal.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 7,000 cases of rabies in animals are reported each year in the United States. Raccoons are the most common carrier of rabies. However, bats caused 75% of rabies cases in humans.
Wild animals may also carry disease-causing organisms in their saliva. As a result, humans that are bitten have a risk of developing infections.
Symptoms: Some animals may cause the skin to break with or without bleeding. Others may cause puncture-type wounds, which mean the animal's teeth pierced small holes into the skin. Others may develop major cuts, bruising, or crushing injuries that may break bones.
Individuals who become infected with rabies may experience symptoms, such as fever, general feeling of discomfort insomnia, confusion, seeing or hearing things that are not there, difficulty swallowing, agitation, convulsions, and fear of water.
Symptoms of an infection include increased swelling and pain, fever, and redness.
Treatment: Patients who are bitten by wild animals should seek immediate medical treatment at the emergency department of a nearby hospital.
While waiting for help, patients should apply pressure to the wound with a clean cloth. This will help reduce bleeding. If the wound is not severely bleeding, individuals can gently wash the wound with warm water and mild soap. Then, apply antibiotic ointment and a clean dressing to the wound.
Healthcare providers recommend that all patients who are bitten by wild animals receive a rabies vaccine as a precautionary measure.
If the wound is deep, stitches may be required.
If there is extensive bruising and pain, an X-ray may be taken to determine if the patient has any broken bones. Patients with broken bones will need to wear a brace or cast for several weeks until the bones heal.
Patients should call animal control authorities if they were bitten by an animal. If the animal is caught and tests positive for rabies, it will be euthanized. This minimizes the animal's suffering because rabies is deadly, and it also prevents the animal from harming anyone else.
Prevention: Do not approach any wild animal, even if it appears friendly.
Do not feed wild animals.
Make sure garbage and trash is covered with lids. Many animals, including raccoons, will eat human garbage. If trash is properly sealed, it less likely to attract wild animals.
When camping, make sure all food and garbage is tightly sealed and far away from the sleeping area.
Notify the local animal control authorities if a wild animal is acting strangely, aggressively, or foaming at the mouth. These may be signs that the animal has rabies. Untrained individuals should not attempt to catch the animals themselves.
Overview: Jellyfish are saucer-shaped marine animals that have a jelly-like body. The underside of a jellyfish consists of long tentacles that hang down in strands. Jellyfish use these tentacles to kill their prey. Tentacles have stingers that inject poisonous venom to small prey that come into contact with them.
Jellyfish can sting humans with their tentacles. In most cases, a jellyfish sting simply causes temporary pain and transient rash in humans. However, the pain may be severe if the individual is stung multiple times or is stung by many different jellyfish.
The severity and duration of symptoms also depends on the type of jellyfish. Some jellyfish, including the Portuguese man-o-war, can cause severe skin reactions that last for weeks. The tentacles of these enormous animals can reach up to 100 feet in length. Others, including the box jellyfish, are so toxic that they have killed humans.
Although rare, some individuals can develop a potentially fatal allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, to a jellyfish's venom.
Symptoms: In general, jellyfish stings cause painful skin eruptions, which appear as a raised and itchy red rash. The rash usually only develops on the area of the skin that came into contact with the jellyfish tentacles. The rash can last for days to weeks. Severe stings, such as those caused by the Portuguese man-o-war, can cause deep wounds and the skin may peel off. Even detached tentacles of the Portuguese man-o-war are capable of causing stings for up to two weeks.
Signs of an allergic reaction to jellyfish venom include difficulty breathing, chest pain, hives, dizziness, low blood pressure, and shock. Individuals who develop any of these symptoms should seek immediate medical treatment at the nearest hospital.
Stings from the box jellyfish of Australia have been known to cause sudden death.
Treatment: Jellyfish stings usually do not require any treatment. Rinse the affected area with salt water. Do not rinse with fresh water because it may worsen symptoms.
Remove any tentacles in the skin with protective gloves or tweezers.
Applying ice or a cool compress may help relieve pain, redness, and swelling. Applying vinegar to the affected area may help relieve pain. However, vinegar should not be applied to the skin if the patient has been stung by a Portuguese man-o-war. Vinegar may actually worsen the pain of these stings. Over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®), may help reduce symptoms. It is unclear if other products, such as meat tenderizers, baking soda, or papaya, can help treat stings. It has been suggested that some meat tenderizers may help because they contain an enzyme, called papain, which may reduce the pain.
A common myth is that urinating on a jellyfish sting will help relieve the pain of a jellyfish sting. However, this is not true.
Patients who develop toxic reactions to jellyfish stings, including shedding of the skin or deep skin wounds, should seek immediate medical treatment. These patients are treated with drugs called antivenin. They counteract the actions of the jellyfish venom and reduce symptoms.
If an individual develops anaphylaxis, epinephrine is injected into the patient. Epinephrine helps open the breathing tubes, making it easier for the patient to breathe. It also constricts the blood vessels, which increases blood pressure. Patients who experience anaphylaxis may also be admitted to the hospital to have their blood pressure monitored and possibly to receive breathing support. Other emergency interventions may also include endotracheal intubation (placing a tube through the nose or mouth and into the airway) or emergency surgery to place a tube directly into the trachea (tracheostomy or cricothyrotomy).
Prevention: Get out of the water if a jellyfish is spotted. Jellyfish usually live in groups.
Do not swim when there are jellyfish warnings at the beach.
Do not touch jellyfish, even if they are washed up on the beach and appear to be dead. Even dead jellyfish are capable of stinging humans.
Individuals should swim cautiously in warm ocean water because most jellyfish prefer warm water.
Wearing a wet suit or Lycra® dive or swim suit may help prevent jellyfish stings.
Individuals who have a history of anaphylaxis reaction to jellyfish should carry auto-injectable epinephrine, called an EpiPen®. If symptoms of anaphylaxis develop, the patient injects the medication into the thigh. Once an EpiPen® is used, patients should immediately seek follow-up care at a nearby hospital.