Animal Bites - Introduction and Treatment

Here is a photo of a recent patient of ours that suffered a cat bite, who subsequently developed cellulitis. The majority of animal bites received by humans are dog bites (85–90%), followed by cat bites (5–10%) and rodent bites (2–3%).

Dog bites occur more commonly in children aged under 5 years than in older children. In adults, they are more common in males than in females. Most dog bites in young children occur on the head and neck. In older children and adults, they are more commonly on the arms and legs. This is likely due to the level of these body parts in relation to the mouths of large dogs. Dog bites commonly result in crush injuries, but may also cause scratches, deep cuts, puncture wounds, and tearing of the skin and underlying flesh.

Cat bites occur more commonly in children and female adults than in male adults. Cat bites are more likely than dog bites to become infected, due to the tendency of cat bites to result in deep puncture wounds. Most cat bites occur on the arms and the hands. Cat bites typically result in either scratches or deep puncture wounds. Bartonella henselae, the causative agent of cat scratch disease , can also be transmitted via a bite from an infected cat.

Complications of animal bites include tissue damage from crush injury, psychological distress and wound infection that may lead to infection of bone, tendons, joint spaces, and bacteremia. An animal bite wound should be carefully examined and treated as soon as possible after it has occurred to reduce the risk of complications. Clinically infected wounds should be irrigated, debrided, incised and drained as required. Cultures should be taken from clinically infected wounds. Most animal wounds should be left open due to the risk of infection. Primary closure may be considered for low-risk wounds on the head and neck (with antibiotic prophylaxis), as enhanced blood supply in this region reduces the risk of infection. All bites that are infected should be treated with antibiotics (see below)

A tetanus booster (tetanus toxoid) should be offered to patients if it has been more than 5 years since their last dose and they have completed their primary vaccination course. Rabies post-exposure prophylaxis should be considered for all bites that occurred in a rabies endemic area.

Dr. Cindy N. Berthelot, M.D. is a board certified dermatologist treating patients in the greater Houston community, including Clear Lake, League City, Friendswood, Pasadena, Deer Park, Dickinson, Pearland, Alvin, Seabrook, Kemah, Webster, Galveston, Texas City, La Marque, and Santa Fe, Texas. To make an appointment with Dr. Berthelot, please contact us at 281.480.7272.