If you’ve suffered lasting pain or deformity due to an animal bite, please Schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists as soon as possible.
What causes animal bites?
Animals can bite when they are agitated, scared or hurt. Dog bites cause crushing injuries with lots of tissue damage while cat bites consist of sharp deep wounds, which are more likely to close off and cause an infection. Snake bites are less frequent, but can be more dangerous if a poisonous snake is encountered.
What are the symptoms of animal bites?
Animal bites cause physical damage to tissues and can also introduce infection. The physical trauma of tooth puncture or tearing soft tissue and breaking bone can result in significant damaged tissues. Symptoms of infection include redness, swelling, warmth of the tissues, generalized fever, purulent (thick white) drainage, swollen lymph nodes in the armpits, sweating.
Rabies is a disease of the nervous system that is caused by a virus that is carried by mammals including bats, raccoons, dogs, cats and humans. If rabies is not treated it will kill you. If there is suspicion that an animal that bit you has not been vaccinated for rabies- you must seek immediate medical attention. Initial rabies symptoms may include nausea/vomiting, lack of appetite, fever, headache, fatigue. Later rabies symptoms include difficulty swallowing, disorientation, with eventual paralysis and coma.
Venomous snake bites require emergency attention. Call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room if you are bitten by a snake. If possible, remember the color markings of the snake, and do not attempt to treat the snake bite yourself. Antivenom can be given for snake bites at the hospital and supportive care will be provided in case of “envenomation syndrome”. It is important to seek medical care in case or a snake bite even if you feel fine at first, because not all venoms act immediately, but can lead to neurological and life-threatening symptoms.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Clinical examination of an animal bite is important to identify the extent of damage caused by the bite. In addition bloodwork and imaging such as Xray will be required depending on the findings of the clinical examination. More advanced imaging, such as CT or MRI, may be necessary as well.
Damage to tissues and infection must be treated. If the damage is not extensive, healing may occur naturally. If there is damage to vessels, tendons, or bone, surgery may be necessary to repair the structures as needed. Hand therapy may be necessary for rehabilitation following injury. Immobilization is prescribed according to injuries and treatment provided.
To treat infection: irrigation and cleaning of the wound is performed as first line treatment. A course of antibiotics is prescribed to treat infection. IV antibiotics and hospitalization may be required for severe infection. If rabies cannot be ruled out or is suspected, a series of vaccinations will be administered.
AAOS- American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons animal bites OrthoInfo webpage.
AAOS- American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons rabies OrthoInfo webpage.
ASSH- American Society of Hand Surgery animal bite Handcare webpage.
ASSH-American Society of Hand Surgery snakebite Handcare webpage.
ASSH- American Society of Hand Surgery infected animal bite Handcare webpage.
Sacks et al “Dog bites: how big a problem?” Published in Injury Prevention Journal 1996; 2: 52-54. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/