KidsMD Health Topics

Bites and Scratches

  • Overview

    Whether your child is bitten by a family pet or an animal in the wild, the scratches and bites can become infected and cause scarring. All animal bites require treatment based on the type and severity of the wound. Animals can also carry diseases that can be transmitted through a bite.

    »
    All animal bites require treatment, and can become infected and cause scarring. If your child has been scratched or bitten by an animal, contact our Infectious Disease team.
    Infectious Diseases
    333 Longwood Avenue
    5th floor
    Boston MA 02115
     617-355-6832
     fax: 617-730-0911

    »
    To learn more about how to avoid or prevent bites and scratches from occurring, visit our Injury Prevention Program.
    Children's Hospital Boston
    300 Longwood Avenue
    BK 120
    Boston MA 02115
     617-919-3071
    +
    Children's Hospital Boston
    300 Longwood Ave
    BK 120
    Boston MA 02115
     617-919-3068

  • In-Depth

    Dog bites

    The most common type of animal bite is a dog bite. More than a million Americans are attacked by dogs each year, and about half of them are children. About five percent of dog bites and 20 to 50 percent of cat bites become infected. Bites that break the skin and bites of the scalp, face, hand, wrist or foot are more likely to become infected.

    Bites from other animals

    Cat scratches, even from a kitten, can carry "cat scratch disease," a bacterial infection. Other animals can transmit rabies and tetanus. Rodents such as mice, rats, squirrels, chipmunks, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils and rabbits are at low risk to carry rabies.

    How can I help prevent an animal from biting my child?

    Follow these guidelines to help decrease the chance of your child being bit by an animal:

    • Never leave a young child alone with an animal.
    • Teach your child not to tease or hurt an animal.
    • Teach your child to avoid strange dogs, cats, and other animals.
    • Have your pets licensed and immunized against rabies and other diseases.
    • Keep your pets in a fenced yard or confined to a leash.
  • When your child is bitten or scratched by an animal, remain calm and reassure your child that you can help. Specific treatment for an animal bite will be determined by your child's physician.

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

    • Wash the wound with soap and water under pressure from a faucet for at least five minutes, but do not 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 physician or 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 five minutes. Do not scrub the wound, as this may bruise the tissue.
    • Dry the wound and cover it with a sterile dressing. Do not use tape or butterfly bandages to close the wound as this could trap harmful bacteria in the wound.
    • Call your child's physician or healthcare provider for help in reporting the attack and to decide if additional treatment, such as antibiotics, a tetanus booster, or rabies vaccination is needed. This is especially important for bites on the face or for bites that cause deeper puncture wounds of the skin.
    • If possible, locate the animal that inflicted the wound. Some animals need to be captured, confined, and observed for rabies. Do not 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, is a high-risk species (raccoon, skunk or bat), or if the animal attack was unprovoked, your child may need a series of rabies shots.

    Call your child's physician or healthcare provider for any flu-like signs such as fever, headache, malaise, decreased appetite, or swollen glands following an animal bite.

    Human bites

    Human bites can easily become infected due to the number of bacteria in the human mouth. In fact, human bite wounds are more likely to become infected than dog or cat bites. A physician should check any human bite that breaks your child's skin.

    Treatment for human bites

    Remain calm and reassure your child that you can help. Specific treatment for a human bite will be determined by your child's physician.

    • If the bite 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 five minutes. Do not scrub, as this may bruise the tissue.
    • Dry the wound and cover it with a sterile dressing. Do not use tape or butterfly bandages to close the wound, as this could trap harmful bacteria in the wound.
    • Many times, human bites are treated with antibiotics to prevent infection. Call your child's physician to find out if additional treatment or a tetanus booster is needed.
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