Animal Bites

If your child has been bitten by any animal, wild or domestic, do the following:

  • Clean the wound at once with water and mild soap.
  • If the wound is severe – with large tears or perforations, handle it as you would any large wound.
  • Contact your child’s doctor as soon as possible.

Concerns About Rabies

The major concern after the bite wound is treated is whether or not the child will need specific treatment to prevent rabies (a viral infection that is nearly always fatal). If the wild animal has been caught, it will be killed and its brain examined microscopically for evidence of this disease. While awaiting the results of this examination – or more commonly, if the animal is not captured and its brain cannot be evaluated – a decision must be made whether or not to begin a rabies vaccination series. This will depend to a large degree on the type of animal involved and the circumstances of the bite.

In most parts of the United States, bites from wild rodents such as squirrels, rats, chipmunks, mice, and rabbits usually will not be treated with rabies vaccination. However, your child’s doc-tor may consult the local public-health authority for specific advice. On the other hand, skunks, raccoons, opossums, bats, and all wild carnivores should always be considered potentially rabid (rabies carrying) and should never be touched, even in a park or other setting where they are accustomed to receiving food from human hands. A bite from one of these animals – especially if the animal was not provoked or defending itself – is more likely to rinse concerns about rabies.

Bites from domestic animals (dogs, cats, etc.) are more common but rarely cause rabies. If someone is bitten by a domestic animal, treat the wound as described above. The animal will usually be available for observation, and public-health officials may quarantine it for ten to fourteen days. If the animal appears normal at the end of the quarantine, no rabies vaccination is required. But if the animal becomes ill, it will be promptly sacrificed and its brain examined microscopically for rabies. Rabies treatment and vaccination should be started as soon as a quarantined animal is found to be ill, and not delayed while awaiting results of the brain examination.

When purchased from pet stores, mice, rats, gerbils, and hamsters are not known to transmit rabies.

Wild animals that have been raised as pets – such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, wolves, ferrets, and small wildcats can carry rabies even if they have appeared healthy in captivity for long periods. This is particularly true of skunks, which have had rabies virus isolated from their saliva even when born in captivity.

Preventing Dog Bites

  • Before you get a dog, consider the breed and gender. Female dogs and neutered males are less likely to bite than non-neutered males. Some breeds of dogs are more aggressive than others.
  • Teach children how to treat a dog properly. Prodding, poking, and tail pulling may provoke a bite even from the most mild-mannered canine. This also can occur if a sleeping dog is jolted awake by a child or if a child tries to play with a dog that is eating. If you have one or more active toddlers who might not understand these ground rules, you might consider waiting until they are more mature before getting a dog.

Human Bites

These bites commonly become infected because they are likely to be heavily contaminated by bacteria, which are abundant in saliva. In addition, the victim may be reluctant to seek medical help because of legal concerns or embarrassment.

Treatment for a human bite is the same as that outlined for animal bites. Human bite wounds are rarely sutured because of the contamination risk noted above. These wounds should be vigorously irrigated and then left open. Antibiotics are usually required for all but the most minor wounds.

Tick Bites

While tick bites are generally insignificant in and of themselves, some ticks transmit infections that can be serious, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Generally, most tick-borne diseases are transmitted only after the tick has remained attached to the skin for many hours. For example, transmission of Lyme disease is unusual if the tick re-mains attached less than 24 to 48 hours.

Another, less common tick-borne illness is tick paralysis, which usually afflicts children. Weakness and paralysis begin in the legs and progress upward with increasing severity as long as the tick is attached. Eventually difficulty with speech and swallowing and respiratory problems occur; rarely, death may result. Tick removal reverses this disorder.

Marine Animals

Stingray Stings

A jagged wound that is immediately and intensely painful; the worst pain occurs after about an hour and then gradually subsides over a period of up to two days.

Treatment Stingray venom breaks down when warm but is stable and persistent when cool. First aid consists of applying hot water from the faucet – as hot as one can tolerate without causing a burn – to the affected area. This will promptly decrease the pain, but discomfort will recur as soon as the area (generally the leg or foot) is allowed to cool. Frequent heat application is necessary for a day or two to control the pain.

Infection may occur if the venom and barb fragments (or the entire spine) remain in the wound. Usually these are removed by irrigating with hot water, and most wounds do not become infected. A tetanus booster is recommended if none has been given during the previous five years.


Stingrays partially submerge themselves in sandy shallow water in sheltered bays, lagoons, and river mouths. The animal’s whip like tail has several (one to four) barbs (spines) that are covered with mucous venom. The tail reflexively whips upward when the ray is touched.

To prevent being stung, bathers should shuffle (not step) when walking in shallow water. This disturbs the stingray, and it will flee before one has a chance to step on it.

Jellyfish and Fire Coral

These two marine animals have a tiny venom-containing capsule (nematocyst) on the outer surface of their tentacles or near the mouth. Contact with a swimmer causes the capsule to penetrate the skin and diffuse venom into it. The attached capsule can discharge repeatedly when it’s exposed to water.

The nematocyst sting is generally quite painful but rarely causes serious medical problems. However, a person who is stung multiple times may develop symptoms such as vomiting, extreme weakness, bloody urine, or fainting.

For treatment of a severe reaction resulting from multiple stings, go to an emergency facility for prompt medical attention.

Less severe stings can be managed at home. The best way to neutralize the nematocysts is to apply liberal amounts of vinegar for 30 minutes. Large tentacles should be removed using gloves. Remaining nematocyst scan be removed by applying shaving foam and gently shaving the area.


Starfish have thorny spines that are coated with slimy venom. When the spines penetrate a victim’s skin, the venom seeps into the wound.

Immediate, intense burning pain at the wound site; the venom rarely causes a more serious reaction.

As with stingray venom, heat will hasten pain resolution.

Sea Urchins

These creatures have venom-bearing spines that are long, sharp, and brittle and can break off in the skin. Purple pigment from the spine can leach into skin and appear to be a retained spine fragment.

There is intense burning pain where the skin has been penetrated.

If a spine fragment remains in the skin, it should be removed by a physician, because unnecessary pain and further tissue damage can result from attempts to take it out without adequate local anesthetic.

Immersion in hot water will decrease pain, as previously described for stingrays and starfish. X-rays may be needed to determine whether any spine fragments remain in the skin. Antibiotics and a tetanus booster will be given if necessary.