Animal Bites



Most bites occur when an animal has been bothered. Animals with rabies may bite without being bothered.

Risk Factors

Animal bites are more common in males and people less than 20 years of age. Dog bites are more common in boys from 5 to 9 years old. Cat bites are more common in females of all ages.



Symptoms can range from a mild wound to a serious infection. Symptoms of wounds are pain and bleeding.

Signs of infection often happen 24 to 72 hours after the bite. They may be:

  • Pain or tenderness
  • Redness, warmth, and swelling
  • Pus or clear discharge from the wound
  • Painless lumps near the site
  • Problems moving the affected area
  • Fever


The doctor will ask about the bite, the animal, and the person's past health. Questions may also be asked about whether the animal may have had rabies.

Other tests will be done to find out how severe the animal bite is. This may include swabs to look for signs of infection or X-rays to check for broken bones.

Dog Bite to Hand
Dog Bite
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The goals of treatment are to promote healing, lower the risk of infection, and prevent long term problems. Initial care may include:

  • Cleaning, drying, and bandaging the wound
  • Removing any dead tissue
  • Closing the wound with stitches, if possible

People who have severe injuries may need surgery to repair them.

Medicines may be given, such as:

  • Pain relievers
  • Antibiotics to prevent or treat infection
  • A tetanus shot to lower the risk of infection
  • Rabies vaccines or human rabies immune globulin (HRIG) if the animal may have had rabies


The risk of animal bites may be lowered by learning and practicing animal safety.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.