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
  • Swelling
  • Warmth
  • 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 that bit you, and your health history. The doctor will check the wound. If the wound looks infected, the doctor may swab it for testing.

X-rays may be done to look for broken bones.

Dog Bite to Hand
Dog Bite
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The goal of treatment is to promote healing, reduce the risk of infection, and prevent problems. The risk of infection and problems is lowered by getting prompt medical care. Medical care is especially important for:

  • Bites from any wild animal, which may carry rabies
  • Cat or human bites
  • Deep or large wounds
  • Infection
  • Those who have not had a tetanus shot in 5 or more years
  • Those with long term or serious illnesses

Treatment options are:

  • Home care, such as:
    • Keeping the wound clean, dry, and bandaged
    • Elevating the wound—to speed healing
    • Checking the wound often for signs of infection
  • Medical care, such as:
    • Cleaning the wound and removing any dead tissue
    • Stitching the wound, if needed
    • Bandaging the wound
    • Antibiotics to prevent or treat infection
    • A tetanus shot, if needed
    • Surgery—for severe injury

Hospital care may be needed for those with severe wounds or infections, or certain health problems.


The risk of animal bites may be reduced 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.