How to Treat Animal Bites

Animal bites and scratches that break the skin can cause infections, but they don’t always require a trip to the hospital. Bites are rarely life-threatening, and depending on severity, often heal on their own. The type of animal and whether or not it’s healthy largely determines your course of treatment.

While some animals can spread rabies, it isn’t common among domestic animals like dogs, cats, or ferrets. In the United States, most rabies cases are linked to bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes and feral cats.

If you or a family member is bitten or scratched by an animal, you can take the following steps to make sure your wound heals properly.

What To Do

  • Wash the bite area with soap and water.
  • If the bite is bleeding, apply pressure with sterile gauze or a clean cloth.
  • Apply antibiotic ointment to the area.
  • Cover the bite with a bandage or sterile gauze.
  • Take pain relief medicine, if necessary.

When To Seek Medical Attention

If you are bitten by a wild/stray animal or a pet that has not received a rabies shot, you should contact your medical provider or the health department as soon as possible.

Other factors that may indicate you should see a doctor:

  • The bite has broken the skin.
  • The bite is on the face, head, neck, hand, foot, or near a joint.
  • The bite wound becomes red, hot, swollen, or more painful over time.
  • You haven’t received a tetanus shot within the last 5 years.

If you are bitten and require medical treatment, you’ll be asked to provide a description of the animal that bit you, whether it was stray or wild, current immunization records, and any medications you may be allergic to.


Many animal bites are preventable. Wild animals usually avoid people but attack when they feel threatened. To prevent animal bites, you should avoid direct contact with wild or stray animals, including feeding animals. Make sure you watch children closely outdoors and around animals that aren’t your own. It’s also important to keep pets current on their rabies vaccinations.