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This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

Being bitten by an animal is no joke - in fact you should seek medical advice because the consequences can be very serious - even fatal !

Owners and others are frequently bitten by animals, but not everybody seeks medical attention. Unfortunately the consequences of an animal bite can be very serious indeed, so medical attention should be sought as soon as possible.

There are several possible outcomes following a bite :

  • Physical damage to local tissue. Types of trauma that can result during a bite include:
    • crush injuries - which can destroy muscle and vital tissues including blood vessels or nerves, and in the case of large animals, even bone
    • sharp lacerations which can rip across skin, muscle, and sever other vital soft tissues such as blood vessels and nerves
    • deep puncture wounds - which can be closed over by muscle and skin, masking the damage done underneath. Puncture wounds may penetrate body cavities such as the chest (causing collapse of the lung) or abdomen - causing damage to internal organs such as the liver, urinary bladder or gastrointestinal tract. Small, deep  puncture wounds such as are caused by a snake bite can be difficult or impossible to locate, and infection or toxins are inoculated deep into the tissues.
    • shake injuries - large dogs can shake babies or small children during an attack causing further physical damage 
  • Post-injury cellulitis - local inflammation in the tissue around the injury - makes the area hot and painful
  • Infection of the wounds following the introduction of bacteria and other organisms which are present in the mouth of the animal making the bite - these can form a local abscess, delay healing and sometimes get into the bloodstream and travel elsewhere in the body 
  • Animal bites can transmit infections which are zoonoses - eg rabies, leptospirosis. Some zoonoses can be extremely serious (CLICK HERE for more information), for example, once rabies develops in the victim the outcome is invariably fatal.
  • Some reptiles and insects are venomous and transfer a toxin with their bite.  These toxins often act by paralysing the neuromuscular system, which can be serious because essential functions (such as breathing) can be stopped, and sometimes the outcome can be  fatal.

To some extent the severity of a bite depends upon the teeth conformation, for example :

  • animals with carnivorous teeth which are sharp edged (eg cats and dogs) cause serious lacerations
  • animals with typical herbivores teeth which are flat (eg cattle, sheep, horses) cause more of a crushing injury
  • insects have sharp cutting mouth parts which inflict a painful wound
  • snakes have long sharp fine fangs designed to create a deep penetrating wound
  • rodents (eg hamsters, mice, rats), rabbits and cavies (eg guinea pigs) have a pair of large incisors (designed for gnawing) which cause a painful, deep wound.

Patients who have been bitten are often in a state of shock because the event was sudden and unexpected. In addition, having been bitten often leaves the person with a permanent fear and distrust of animals - which may be lifelong.

What should you do if you are bitten ?

  • Flush the wound with copious amounts of water, and with soap if it is available
  • Cover the wound with a temporary dressing or other suitable material
  • Apply compression if necessary to stop bleeding
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible


Treatment involves :

  • Treatment for shock
  • Surgery - to stop bleeding, repair damaged tissues eg severed nerves or blood vessels, muscle tears, cosmetic or reconstructive surgery  if necessary, removal of irreparably damaged tissue
  • Cleansing of the wound 
  • Antibiotics to prevent infection
  • Antitoxins - specific antidotes if the animal was poisonous
  • Antiserum (contains antibodies) - to provide immunity for the patient against certain infectious agents eg rabies, tetanus
  • Vaccination to induce the development of immunity in the patient eg against rabies

Last updated : September 2013