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A little bit of rough housing can be a fun and healthy outlet for both you and your pet, but this time they chomped down a bit harder than normal and your pet bit you.  Depending on the kind of pet you have, this could mean something a little more action than a band-aid for you and bedtime without a treat for your furry friend. 

Cat bites create puncture wounds that penetrate much deeper into the area affected, whereas dog bites can cause compression, shearing, and crush type injuries after a bite. 

According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH), “the majority of animal bites in the U.S. are caused by dogs, with cat bites a distant second.” 

In 2018, World Atlas reported that cats and dogs were the second and third most popular pets in the U.S. respectively, making one wonder how common we are being bit by our loved ones, and how do we treat it when it happens?

Cat Bites

Did you know cats don’t technically ‘chew’ their food?  Cats have four canine teeth that are skinny and sharp.  Additionally, they have sharper than normal molars in order to cut up the food in their mouth before swallowing.  As a result, a hard-enough bite from a cat can cause a puncture wound to the skin and underlying soft tissue.  

“These punctures rapidly seal over, trapping bacteria from the cat’s mouth under the skin of the victim, where they can readily multiply. A similar type of injury happens with cat scratches – the extremely sharp, curved nails penetrate deep into the skin, essentially injecting bacteria deep into the puncture wound.” -Krista Williams, BSc, DVM; Ernest Ward, DVM

Dog Bites

Dogs teeth, much like a humans, include incisors, canines, molars, and premolars to cut, shear, and crush its food.  Similarly, your skin can also be cut, sheared, or crushed by your dog’s bite if hard enough.  Most dog bites cause a crush injury that may or may not include an open, jagged appearing wound.  Like with cat bites, infection poses a serious risk to people who have suffered a dog bite. 

“While most injuries are minor, about 1 in 5 times dog bites need a doctor’s care. CDC dog bite statistics from 2001-2003 showed about 4.5 million dog bites occurred each year and 885,000 were serious enough for the victims to seek medical attention. Data from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons for 2015 demonstrates that over 28,000 patients had reconstructive surgery because of dog bites.” -Libby Guise, DVM

For a minor bite:

First, wash the area with soap and water.  Then apply an antibiotic ointment to the wound. Lastly, cover it with a clean bandage.  Be sure to monitor the area for signs of infection.

Go to your doctor if:
  • You aren’t sure how deep the wound is.
  • The bleeding is not well controlled with a compression bandage. 
  • There are signs of infection after the injury.
  • The animal that bit you was a stray animal or you cannot obtain the animals vaccination history.
  • You have not had a tetanus booster. 

The ASSH recommends that “if the bite wound results in swelling, redness, warmth and continued pain beyond 24 hours, pus draining from the bite wound, red streaks extending up the arm or forearm, swollen lymph nodes (glands) around the elbow or in the armpit, loss of mobility, loss of sensation in the hand or fingertip, fever, loss of energy, night sweats, or chills, emergency treatment should be sought either in your physician’s office or the emergency room.” 

Author: Riki Duncan, MA.Ed


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