Children's Hospital Colorado

Human or Animal Bite

Urgent or Emergency Care?

If you believe your child needs immediate attention and you have concerns for a life-threatening emergency, call 911. Not sure what counts as urgent and what's an emergency when your child is sick or injured? When it can't wait, know where to take your kids.

Help Me Decide

  • Bite from a pet, wild animal or human
  • Any animal-related skin injury

Types of Wounds

  • Bruise. There is no break in the skin. No risk of infection.
  • Scrape (Abrasion) or Scratch. A wound that doesn't go all the way through the skin. Low chance of infection. Antibiotic drugs are not needed.
  • Cut (Laceration). A wound that goes through the skin to the fat or muscle tissue. Some chance of infection. Most need to be seen. Cleaning the wound can help prevent this. Antibiotic drugs may be needed.
  • Puncture Wound. These wounds break through the skin. Greater risk of infection. Puncture wounds from cat bites are more likely to get infected. Antibiotic drugs may be needed.
  • Wound Infection. This is the main risk of an animal bite. The main finding is redness around the bite and pain. It starts 8 hours to 3 days after the bite. It can often be prevented by early, careful cleaning of the bite. This is why most animal bites need to be seen.

Types of Animal Bites

  • Large Wild Animal Bites. Rabies is a disease that can kill people. Bites or scratches from any large wild animal can pass on rabies. Animals at highest risk are bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes, or coyotes. These animals may spread rabies even if they have no symptoms.
  • Small Wild Animal Bites. Small animals such as mice, rats, moles, or gophers do not carry rabies. Chipmunks, prairie dogs, squirrels and rabbits also do not carry rabies. Exception: one of these small animals actually attacks a human (an unprovoked bite). Sometimes, their bites can get infected.
  • Large Pet Animal Bites. Most bites from pets are from dogs or cats. Bites from other pets such as horses can be handled using this guide. Dogs and cats are free of rabies in most U.S. and Canadian cities. Stray animals are always at risk for rabies until proven otherwise. Cats and dogs that always stay indoors should be safe. The main risk in pet bites is wound infection, not rabies. Cat bites become infected more often than dog bites. Cat scratches can get infected just like a bite because cats lick their claws.
  • Small Indoor Pet Animal Bites. Small indoor pets are not at risk for rabies. Examples of these pets are gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, or mice. Tiny puncture wounds from these small animals also don't need to be seen. They carry a small risk for wound infections.
  • Human Bites. Most human bites occur during fights, especially in teenagers. Sometimes a fist is cut when it strikes a tooth. Human bites are more likely to become infected than animal bites. Bites on the hands are at higher risk. Many toddler bites are safe because they don't break the skin.
  • Bat Bites and Rabies. In the U.S., 90% of cases of rabies in humans are caused by bats. Bats have spread rabies without a visible bite mark.

Animals at Risk for Rabies

  • Bat, skunk, raccoon, fox, or coyote
  • Other large wild animals
  • Pets that have never had rabies shots and spend time outdoors
  • In the U.S., rabies occurs 4 times more in cats than in dogs.
  • Outdoor animals who are sick or stray
  • Dogs or cats in countries that do not require rabies shots
  • In the U.S. and Canada, bites from city dogs and cats are safe.
  • In the U.S., there are 2 - 3 deaths from rabies per year in humans.

Call 911 Now

  • Major bleeding that can't be stopped
  • Not moving or too weak to stand
  • You think your child has a life-threatening emergency

Go to ER Now

  • Bleeding that won't stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure
  • Any scratch or cut from an animal at risk for Rabies

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Wild animal bite that breaks the skin
  • Pet animal (such as dog or cat) bite that breaks the skin. Exception: minor scratches that don't go through the skin.
  • Puncture wound (holes through skin) from a Cat's teeth or claws
  • Puncture wound (holes through skin) of hand or face
  • Human bite that breaks the skin
  • Finger or hand swelling that follows an animal bite
  • Bite looks infected (redness or red streaks) or has a fever
  • Bat contact or exposure, even without a bite mark
  • Contact with a rabies-prone animal, even without a bite mark
  • Minor cut or scrape and no past tetanus shots
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Contact Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Last tetanus shot more than 5 years ago
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Contact Doctor During Office Hours

  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Bite did not break the skin or is only a bruise
  • Minor scratches that don't go through the skin from a pet
  • Tiny puncture wound from small pet, such as a hamster or puppy. Exception: cat puncture wound.

Care Advice for Animal or Human Bite

  1. What You Should Know About Bites:
    • Bites that don't break the skin can't become infected.
    • Cuts and punctures always are at risk for infection.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Clean the Bite:
    • Wash all wounds right now with soap and water for 5 minutes.
    • Also, flush well under running water for a few minutes. Reason: Can prevent many wound infections.
  3. Bleeding - How to Stop:
    • For any bleeding, put pressure on the wound.
    • Use a gauze pad or clean cloth.
    • Press for 10 minutes or until the bleeding has stopped.
  4. Antibiotic Ointment:
    • For small cuts, use an antibiotic ointment (such as Polysporin). No prescription is needed.
    • Put it on the cut 3 times a day.
    • Do this for 3 days.
  5. Pain Medicine:
    • To help with the pain, give an acetaminophen product (such as Tylenol).
    • Another choice is an ibuprofen product (such as Advil).
    • Use as needed.
  6. Cold Pack for Pain:
    • For pain or bruising, use a cold pack. You can also use ice wrapped in a wet cloth. Apply it to the bruise once for 20 minutes. Reason: Helps with bleeding, pain and swelling.
  7. What to Expect:
    • Most scratches, scrapes and other minor bites heal up fine in 5 to 7 days.
  8. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Bite starts to look infected (pus, redness, red streaks)
    • Fever occurs
    • You think your child needs to be seen
    • Your child becomes worse

Care Advice for Animal or Human Bite

Scratches from a Cat

The photo shows 3-4 parallel scratches on the wrist caused by a cat.

First Aid Care Advice:

  • Wash the scratches with soap and water.
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment twice daily.
  • Watch closely for signs of infection, especially the first 1-3 days. Signs of infection include fever, redness or tenderness or pus at the scratch site.


The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.

  • Not a Substitute - The information and materials in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker should not be used as a substitute for the care and knowledge that your physician can provide to you.
  • Supplement - The information and materials presented here in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker are meant to supplement the information that you obtain from your physician. If there is a disagreement between the information presented herein and what your physician has told you -- it is more likely that your physician is correct. He or she has the benefit of knowing your child's medical problems.
  • Limitations - You should recognize that the information and materials presented here in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker have the following limitations, in comparison to being examined by your own physician:
    • You can have a conversation with your child's doctor.
    • Your child's doctor can perform a physical examination and any necessary tests.
    • Your child could have an underlying medical problem that requires a physician to detect.
    • If your child is taking medications, they could influence how he experiences various symptoms.

If you think that your child is having a medical emergency, call 911 or the number for the local emergency ambulance service NOW!

And when in doubt, call your child's doctor NOW or go to the closest emergency department.

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