Dog and Cat Bites

Author: Alison Sims, MD

Summer is a great season to spend time with your furry friends outdoors.  Dog parks and dog beaches are popular spots to play with your pets.  Unfortunately, accidents can happen with any animal.

Sometimes a fun outing can be interrupted by an injury when dogs get together in a group and become more excited.  We evaluate and treat many dog and cat bites at our urgent care clinics.  Dog owners usually take their pets out and about more often during summertime; this increases the occurrence of dogs encountering unfamiliar situations which can lead to accidental bite wounds.  We also see many dog and cat bites that are work-related injuries.  Certain professions such as water meter readers, postal workers, and anyone who works at a veterinary clinic or grooming facility face a higher risk for animal bites.  It is important to see a doctor immediately if you are bit.  Do not wait.

Whenever you are injured by a dog or a cat, take down contact numbers and information about the owner and their pet immediately.  It is helpful to have records of the pet’s vaccinations and the animal’s behavior documented.  You may need to contact the owner for more information. Bring your own tetanus vaccination records if possible.  If the wound is bleeding, irrigate it gently with clean water and mild soap and then apply direct pressure with a clean cloth or bandage.  Next, immediately go to the nearest medical care facility to have the wound evaluated and treated.  Avoid using rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide on the wound because it is too caustic to the tissue and harms the healing process.

Both dogs and cats have unique bacteria in their mouths that can cause serious skin infections in humans.  The name of their bacteria is Pasteurella multocida and it is most frequently treated with the antibiotic Augmentin.  If you are allergic to penicillin, the alternative antibiotics that may be given would be doxycycline, or clindamycin plus Levaquin (adults) or clindamycin plus Bactrim (children).  The latter combinations may also be used when Staph aureus or Methicillin-Resistant Staph aureus (MRSA) and/or diabetes are included in the history of medical problems being addressed.

When a cat bites a human, their teeth are thin and very sharp like a needle, so their bacteria becomes buried deeply. There is no way the bacteria from a cat bite can be irrigated out of these tiny puncture wounds.  Due to their needle-like injuries, cat bites become infected 80% of the time.  Dog bites are usually less deep wounds, and they become infected only 5% of the time.  The other variable that leads to more severe infections is the bite location on the body and delayed presentation.  If the wound is on a hand or a foot, and ignored 1-2 days, it can lead to hospitalization for IV antibiotics and surgical debridement.

Animal bites are not usually closed with sutures because of the higher rate of infectious complications when sutures are applied.  In a few rare cases, such as in injuries on the face, or larger wounds that would lead to very large scars, then sutures are used.  These sutures require close follow up and if there are any signs or symptoms of infection, the sutures are removed immediately.

Other concerns to be addressed by your doctor include a tetanus vaccine booster injection if necessary according to your personal vaccination records and post-exposure rabies prophylaxis. In the United States, if the dog or cat is someone’s pet and available for a 10 day observation period, the risk of rabies is low; it is advised not to start rabies treatment unless the animal shows symptoms of rabies.  If the animal is escaped and unknown, then you should immediately begin rabies vaccination and rabies immune globulin per your doctor and the consultation of local public health officials.

The information provided is for general interest only and should not be misconstrued as a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment recommendation. This information does not in any way constitute the practice of medicine, or any other health care profession. Readers are directed to consult their health care provider regarding their specific health situation. Marque Medical is not liable for any action taken by a reader based upon this information.

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