Cat and Dog Bites
If you are having any symptoms or have any questions, please call 811 to speak with a registered nurse 24 hours a day.
Cat and dog bites are common injuries. A family pet or a stray animal could bite you. But you can treat, and even prevent, animal bites.
Path to improved health
If a cat or dog bites you, you should:
- Wash the wound gently with soap and water.
- Apply pressure with a clean towel to the injured area to stop any bleeding.
- Apply a sterile bandage to the wound.
- Keep the injury elevated above the level of the heart to slow swelling and prevent infection.
Severe bites may require additional medical attention. Contact your healthcare provider if:
- You have bleeding that doesn’t stop after 15 minutes of pressure.
- You think you may have a broken bone, nerve damage or another serious injury.
- Your bite becomes infected. Symptoms include redness, swelling, warmth, and pus. You also may have a fever.
- You have diabetes or a condition that weakens your immune system. This includes liver or lung disease, cancer, or AIDS.
- Your last tetanus shot (immunization) was more than 5 years ago. (If so, you may need a booster shot.)
- You got bit by a wild or stray animal.
- You got bit by a pet of unknown vaccination status.
Treatment for cat and dog bites varies. It’s based on the situation and severity of your injury. Below are some things your healthcare provider may do:
- Check for signs of infection.
- Clean the wound with a special solution and remove any damaged tissue.
- May use stitches to close your wound. However, open wounds often heal faster and are less likely to get infected.
- May prescribe an antibiotic to prevent infection.
- May give you a tetanus shot if you had your last shot more than 5 years ago.
Your healthcare provider may want you to follow up with them. If your wound gets worse or infection starts, contact your healthcare provider right away. You may need to see a specialist if your injury is severe.
Things to consider
There are many things you can do to help prevent cat and dog bites.
- Choose your family pet carefully. Be sure to keep their vaccinations current.
- Never leave a young child alone with a pet. He or she may not know how to be gentle with the pet. This can cause the pet to get mad and bite.
- Don’t try to separate fighting animals. You may get bit in the process.
- Avoid contact with animals that are sick or have unknown vaccination records.
- Don’t disturb animals while they’re eating. Animals often are protective of their food.
- Keep your pets on a leash when in public.
Rabies is uncommon in dogs and cats in Canada. (It is more common in wild animals like skunks, raccoons, bats and coyotes.).
If you’re bit by a cat or dog, and you know the owner of the pet, ask for the pet’s health records. They will show vaccinations the animal has had, including one for rabies. To be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to isolate the pet for 10 days and monitor it for signs of rabies. If the animal does show signs of the disease, a veterinarian will test it. If positive, you will need to get a series of rabies shots. You’ll get 2 shots right away and 3 more shots over a 14-day period.
If the animal is a stray or you can’t find the owner of the dog or cat that bit you, contact the animal control agency or health department in your area. They will try to find the animal so it can be tested for rabies. In this situation, your healthcare provider may or may not recommend the rabies shots.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Department of Health and Wellness Nova Scotia website at:
Health Canada website at: