All but the most minor animal bites should probably be assessed and treated by a health professional - in particular, bites to hands.
Bites from cats and dogs are extremely common. The World Health Organization (WHO) reckons there are tens of millions of people affected by dog bites worldwide every year. Many of these injuries come from our own beloved pets. These bites range from trivial to lethal, and kids are particularly at risk.
Cats and dogs aren't that great at remembering to brush their teeth for two minutes twice a day. So their bites are reasonably likely to bring germs with them, which can go on to cause infection. So it's important to take their bites seriously in order to prevent problems.
What should I do?
Because of germs, it is very important to clean the wound. Good old water will do the job perfectly well. If possible, run water from the tap over it until it is clean. Let it bleed until it stops naturally, unless a lot of blood is being lost. If this is the case, then press firmly on it with a sterile dressing or clean pad.
Do I need to see a doctor?
Unless it is a very trivial bite, it is wise to seek medical advice. If the wound is bleeding heavily, attend an accident and emergency (A&E) or minor injuries unit. Also attend A&E if the bite is on an ear, nose or face, or if a child has been bitten on the head. For other bites, see your GP. See a doctor for any cat bite, as these are particularly likely to become infected.
In countries where rabies is a risk, see a doctor for even a trivial bite. If your tetanus jabs aren't up to date, see a health professional to have a booster.
Further reading and references
Bites - human and animal; NICE CKS, July 2015 (UK access only)
Ellis R, Ellis C; Dog and cat bites. Am Fam Physician. 2014 Aug 1590(4):239-43.
Morgan M, Palmer J; Dog bites. BMJ. 2007 Feb 24334(7590):413-7.
Abrahamian FM, Goldstein EJ; Microbiology of animal bite wound infections. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2011 Apr24(2):231-46. doi: 10.1128/CMR.00041-10.
Animal bites; World Health Organization (WHO) Fact sheet, February 2013
Controlling your dog in public; GOV.UK
Pasteurellosis: characteristics, diagnosis and management; Public Health England, May 2011
Dog bite prevention; American Vetinary Medical Association (AVMA)
Be safe with dogs; Blue Cross
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