Pets are the most common cause of animal bites and scratches. Dog bites are the most frequent source of bites, and cats are the most usual cause of scratches. But many stray and wild animals also bite or scratch people each year.
An animal scratch or bite can result in a break in the skin, a bruise, or a puncture wound.
Puncture wounds, in particular, can bleed extensively or become infected. Cat bites are more likely than dog bites to become infected, but this can happen from the bite of scratch of any animal.
Some bites, particularly from a large dog or other big animal, can cause injury to tendons, muscles, bones, and nerves. Signs of such damage include a loss of sensation or the inability to move the area that was bitten.
Another danger from scratches and bites is cat scratch fever. This, of course, comes from an infected cat. The cat will not show any ill effects from the bacteria that causes cat scratch fever. But people who become infected may have pain, swelling, redness, fever, and swollen lymph nodes three to 10 days after being scratched by a cat with the disease. It is important to seek medical attention for this condition, because treatment with antibiotics and pain and fever reducers may be necessary. Sometimes a doctor must drain extremely swollen lymph nodes too.
Getting an animal bite or scratch is never a pleasant experience. The best alternative is to prevent these injuries altogether. But if you do get bitten of scratched, remember to perform the proper first aid (see “If YOU Get Bitten or Scratched), report the incident, and get medical attention if necessary.
HOW TO AVOID Animal Bites
Here are some precautions you should take.
- Do not approach a strange animal.
- Do not provoke, tease, or hurt an animal.
- Do not take a toy or bane away from a dog or cat.
- Do not attempt to separate fighting animals.
- Do not bother animals that are eating or sleeping. Most pet bites occur when the animal is eating.
- Keep pets on a leash in public.
- Do not approach baby animals, as the parents may attack.
- Leave sick or injured animals alone and get help.
- Never keep wild animals as pets.
- Keep away from an animal that is cowering or growling.
If a dog is growling or barking, don’t approach. Stop, or it will think you are threatening. Do not smile or make eye contact, as this can be construed as a threat. Never turn your back on a dog and run away.
Stay away from a dog whose body is rigid, with tail stiff at half mast. The dog may be dangerous.
Don’t go near an animal that displays signs of rabies. These can include a raccoon that is active during the day or any animal acting strangely or aggressively.
If YOU Get Bitten or Scratched
No matter how minor an animal scratch or bite is, it requires treatment to prevent infections.
1. Wash the wound with soap and running water for three to five minutes. Cover with antibiotic ointment and a clean dressing.
2. If it is bleeding, apply pressure with a clean, dry cloth until bleeding stops. Elevate the area. Clean with soap and water after bleeding stops. Call 911 if the wound is bleeding profusely and will not stop.
3. If a bite is on the face, neck, hands, or fingers, calla doctor to be seen right away.
4. See a doctor if a bite or scratch shows signs of redness, pus, swelling, and pain–or if there is numbness or an inability to more the area,
You should also see a doctor or go to the emergency room if:
- the bite or scratch is from a stray or a wild animal.
- you have not had a tetanus shot within the past five years.
- the bite is deep or large enough to need stitches.
One extreme danger from the scratch or bite of any animal is rabies. Rabies is a fatal viral disease transmitted by the saliva of an infected animal. Scratches as well as bites can transfer the rabies virus, because many animals lick their claws.
The rabies virus attacks the nervous system. Symptoms may appear from five days to over a year after infection. They may include fever, headache, decreased appetite, vomiting, and pain, itching, or numbness at the site of the wound in the early stages. The late stages of the disease involve difficulty swallowing, foaming at the mouth, agitation and disorientation, paralysis, and death. There is no cure for rabies once symptoms develop. But symptoms can be prevented with a vaccination right after the scratch or bite occurs.
Most pets in the United States are vaccinated and do not have rabies. Most cases of rabies in this country are in wild animals such as skunks, bats, foxes, and raccoons. But in other countries, many pets are not vaccinated and can carry rabies. If you are bitten or scratched by a dog or cat outside the United States, consult a doctor immediately, regardless of the severity of the wound.
What You Should Do
When you report an assault by a stray or wild animal, you will need to tell authorities the following:
- Type of animal
- Its behavior
- The place of the attack and the time it occurred
- Whether the animal is available for testing–do not try to capture the animal yourself
- Whether the animal appeared sick
If the animal cannot be captured and is from a high-risk species such as bats, skunks, foxes, or raccoons, a victim may have to get a series of rabies shots as a precaution.
If the bite of scratch is from a pet that is not your own and you know where it belongs, get the owner’s name, address, and telephone number to report the incident to animal control or public health departments. Find out if the animal has had its scheduled rabies vaccination, and write down the rabies tag number.
Students will comprehend concepts related to the prevention of rabies. Students will be able to demonstrate the ability to practice health-enhancing behaviors regarding the prevention of rabies in the community.
* What are the most common types of injuries inflicted by animals on people? (An animal scratch or bite can result in a break in the skin, a bruise, or a puncture wound. Puncture wounds can bleed extensively of become infected. A large dog of other big animal can cause injury to tendons, muscles, bones, and nerves. An animal infected with rabies can transmit that infection to humans, which in turn can be fatal if not treated right away.)
* Describe what happens when someone gets rabies. (The rabies virus attacks the nervous system Symptoms may appear from five days to over a year after infection. They may include fever, headache, malaise, decreased appetite, vomiting, and pain, itching, or numbness at the site of the wound in the early stages. Later stages of the disease involve difficulty swallowing, foaming at the mouth, agitation and disorientation, paralysis, and death.)
* What happens when a person gets cat scratch fever? (People who become infected may have pain, swelling, redness, fever, and swollen lymph nodes three to 10 days after the encounter with a cat. This infection can be treated with antibiotics and fever- and pain-controlling medications.)
* List suggested situations when a person who has been bitten or scratched should seek medical help from a doctor. (1. If a bite is on the face, neck, hands, or fingers; 2. if a bite or scratch shows signs of redness, pus, swelling, and pain; 3. if there is numbness of an inability to more the area; 4. if the bite of scratch is from an unknown of wild animal; 5. if you have not had a tetanus shot within the past five years; or 6. if the bite is deer) or large enough to need stitches.)
1. Invite a veterinarian and/or an animal control officer in your community to come to speak with classes regarding the prevention of rabies.
2. Ask for student volunteers to help with putting on a rabies information and vaccination clinic. The students should plan a brochure that could explain to the per owners in the local area the importance of rabies vaccination. They can also make themselves available to help with the actual organization and work of a clinic for pet vaccination.