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Symptoms and Signs of Animal Bites Symptoms, First Aid, and Treatment Guidelines

Doctor's Notes on Animal Bites

Animal bites may occur from many different types of animals such as dogs, cats, hamsters, raccoons, ferrets, and squirrels. Bites are from the family pet are common. Most states require animal bites to be reported which can be important in rabies cases to help officials track and monitor a possible spread of the disease. Animal bites should be treated by a medical professional to minimize the risk of infection. There may also be broken or embedded teeth (cats) or other foreign material in the wound that needs to be cleaned, possible underlying nerve and blood vessel damage, a risk of tetanus if the person's immunizations are not up to date, and a possible risk of rabies, depending on the animal and circumstances of the bite.

If an animal bite is not medically treated, the wound may become infected which may indicate there is infection or debris still in the wound (such as teeth, clothes, or dirt). Symptoms of an infected animal bite include redness at or around the bite site, swelling, pus drainage from the wound, increasing pain, localized warmth at the bite site, red streaks leading away from the site of the bite, and fever.

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Animal Bites Symptoms

Although most bites need to be checked by a doctor, if the person who was bitten does not seek immediate attention after the bite has occurred, watch closely for signs and symptoms of infection. These symptoms may signal there is infection or debris still in the wound (such as teeth, clothes, or dirt):

  • Redness at or around the bite site
  • Swelling
  • Pus (thick) drainage from the wound
  • Increasing pain
  • Localized warmth at the bite site
  • Red streaks leading away from the site of the bite
  • Fever

Animal Bites Causes

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), rabies has one of the highest fatality ratios of any infectious disease. Rabies is an acute, progressive encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) caused by a virus.  An animal infected with the virus may display abnormal behavior, seizures, not eating, problems swallowing, loss of muscle movements, gait abnormality and paralysis. The virus can enter a human through a bite as the virus is found in the animal’s saliva. Prompt examination of animal bites is important to identify the need for immediate treatment and to secure the animal, if warranted. 

The vaccination of domestic animals is an important step in prevention, as rabies is rare in vaccinated animals. Stray animals should be confined for at least three days to determine if human exposure has occurred and if the owner can be found.  Methods used in rabies control include identification tags, licensure, canvassing, citations, animal control and public education.

Rabies in wildlife, however, is difficult to control, so surveillance and variant typing are essential components in control programs. Every animal submitted for rabies testing should be report to the CDC, so that the agency can track trends. 

Treatment for rabies after a suspected bite is called post-exposure prophylaxis and is given as an injection of immune globulin immediately if the animal was known to be rabid or if the animal begins showing signs of the illness. Bites to the head or neck carry a higher risk, as the incubation period will be shorter due to the closeness to the central nervous system.  Rabies Immune Globulin (RIG)  provides immediate neutralizing antibodies until the person can develop their own antibodies in response to the administration of a rabies vaccine. The WHO recommends that the rabies vaccine be given on a four-dose schedule of intramuscular injections.

Animal bites usually are either provoked or unprovoked. A provoked bite would occur if a person teases a dog or tries to take away the dog's food while the dog is eating. An unprovoked bite may occur if the person is sitting in their backyard and a raccoon runs out of the woods and attacks them for no known reason. A stray dog that approaches a person and begins to bite them would be considered unprovoked. This type of information is very important to the healthcare professional taking care of the bite because in certain animal species "unprovoked" bites can be a sign or indicator that the animal has rabies and needs to be either captured, quarantined or very closely monitored.

Snakebites Types, Treatment, and Prevention Slideshow

Snakebites Types, Treatment, and Prevention Slideshow

For thousands of years, snakes have been associated with evil. They slither, hiss, and stare with unblinking eyes. One even deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. So, it’s no wonder many people have a fear of snakes, which is called herpetophobia.

But are your snake fears justified? Every year in the United States, venomous snakes bite about 8,000 people. This is more common between April and October when more people are outside and active. But out of all those snakebites, 30 years of data show that no more than 12 people have died from snakebites in any single year.

While deaths from snakebite are extremely rare, snakebites do happen, and every one of them should be considered a potentially life-threatening emergency. In this slideshow, discover what snakes to watch out for, what you can do to prevent snakebites, why snake venom works the way it does, and what to do if you are bitten.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.