Once Bitten, Twice Shy…

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that almost 5 million people are bitten by dogs and cats each year.  Of the millions of people bitten by animals each year, about 1 in 5 of those people will require medical intervention.  Children make up about 50% of those injured from animal bites.

Articles from The Journal of Pediatrics and The Journal of Injury Prevention state that children 5-9 years old are most likely to have injuries from a dog bite. This may be due to the inquisitive and sometimes antagonistic behavior of children in this age group while around pets. Teach children at a young age that animals need to be respected and that they can be dangerous if not treated correctly.

Dog and cat bites make up the vast majority of all reported animal bites in children. Infection rates from dog and cat bites vary, with bite wounds from a cat having a significantly higher risk for infection than a dog bite. Researchers with Clinical Pediatrics state that bites to the hands or feet have the highest rates for infection and should always be evaluated by a physician.

What do I do if my child is bitten by an animal?

  • All wounds should be initially cleaned with soap and clean water and wrapped with a clean dressing if possible.
  • Bite wounds which cause breakage of the skin should be evaluated by a physician where they can be further cleaned and examined for signs of infection.
  • Any sign of swelling, redness, or pain, should be immediately examined by a physician.
  • Any person with a bite wound from an animal not known to you, including stray cats or dogs, or wild animals, should be immediately seen by a doctor or emergency room.
  • Do not attempt to capture an animal that is not known to you, call a professional to capture and quarantine any animal that has bitten a human.

Will my child need antibiotics?

The type of animal which has bitten the child, severity of injury, location of the bite, and other factors will determine whether they will require treatment with antibiotics to prevent infection.

Rabies is a serious concern with any bite from a wild animal or animal which has been acting strange.  The physician or emergency department will determine if your child needs a shot to protect against a rabies infection. Children with bites from healthy dogs or cats which can be observed by a reliable owner for 2 weeks usually will not require a rabies vaccine.

Tips to prevent animal bites:

  • Never leave young children alone with a pet, no matter how well you think you know the pet’s temperament.
  • Never allow a child to remove food from a pet while they are eating.
  • Never wake a sleeping pet by touching them.
  • Teach children that they should never approach a non-leashed animal while outdoors.
  • Pets can be frightened by costumes or loud noises which can cause them to bite or attack out of fear.  Do not attempt to handle or approach a pet while in a costume unknown to the animal.
  • More prevention tips can be found online at the Center for Disease Control’s website.

For more information on animal bite treatment and prevention, please consult with your physician.


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