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Treatment for Dog and Cat Bites and Scratches

How to respond to dog or cat bites and scratches

When your child is bitten or scratched by an animal, remain calm and reassure your child that you can help. Your child's healthcare provider will determine specific treatment for an animal bite. Treatment may include:

For superficial bites from a familiar household pet that is immunized and in good health:

  • Wash the wound with soap and water under pressure from a faucet for at least 5 minutes. Don’t scrub as this may bruise the tissue. Apply an antiseptic lotion or cream.

  • Watch for signs of infection at the site, such as increased redness or pain, swelling, or drainage, or if your child develops a fever. Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur.

For deeper bites or puncture wounds from any animal, or for any bite from a strange animal:

  • If the bite or scratch is bleeding, apply pressure to it with a clean bandage or towel to stop the bleeding.

  • Wash the wound with soap and water under pressure from a faucet for at least 5 minutes. Don’t scrub as this may bruise the tissue.

  • Dry the wound and cover it with a sterile dressing. Don’t use tape or butterfly bandages to close the wound as this could trap harmful bacteria in the wound.

  • Call your child's healthcare provider for help in reporting the attack and to decide if additional treatment is needed. This may include antibiotics, a tetanus booster, or rabies vaccination. This is especially important for bites on the face or for bites that cause deeper puncture wounds of the skin.

  • If possible, find the animal that inflicted the wound. Some animals need to be captured, confined, and closely watched for rabies. Don’t try to capture the animal yourself. Instead, contact the nearest animal warden or animal control office in your area.

  • If the animal cannot be found or is a high-risk species (raccoon, skunk, or bat), or the animal attack was unprovoked, your child may need a series of rabies shots.

Call your child's healthcare provider for any flu-like symptoms following an animal bite. These symptoms may include fever, headache, malaise, decreased appetite, or swollen glands.

Online Medical Reviewer: Adler, Liora C., MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Finke, Amy, RN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2016
© 2000-2016 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.