Infectious bites and scratches

Dealing with infectious bites and scratches

It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog. Mark Twain


Bites and scratches themselves usually aren’t a major concern in themselves (apart from drop bear bites), however, the potential for infection is the thing to watch out for, especially if the skin is broken.

Prevention Prevention of infectious animal bites and scratches


WebMD make the following suggestions to prevent domestic and wild animal bites.

  • Do not disturb animals, even your family pets, while they are eating, sleeping, or nursing. Animal mothers can be very aggressive when protecting their young.
  • Never leave a young child or baby alone with a pet or wild animal.
    Do not approach or play with unfamiliar or stray pets or wild animals.
  • Teach children to ask permission from a pet’s owner before petting the animal. Do not pet an animal without first letting it sniff you.
  • Don’t run past a dog, because dogs naturally love to chase and catch things.
  • Many animals give a warning sign before they attack. If you have animals in your home, know their warning signs and teach them to your children.
  • Do not try to separate fighting animals. If available, water sprayed from a hose will often break up the fight.
  • If you see a threatening dog:
    • Stay still. Do not run.
    • Do not make direct eye contact with the dog or stare at the dog. Staring at a dog may be interpreted by the dog as a threat and aggression.
    • Don’t scream. If you say anything, speak calmly and firmly.
    • If you fall or are knocked to the ground, curl into a ball with your hands over your head and neck. Protect your face.
    • Notify animal control and, if possible, speak with the dog’s owners.
  • Tell children to report an animal bite to an adult immediately.
  • Do not keep wild animals as pets.
  • Do not touch or tease wild animals.
  • Do not handle sick or injured animals or animals that are acting strangely.
  • Get help from animal control personnel if you need to rescue a trapped or injured animal. If no help is available, wear the heaviest gloves and clothing you have. Do not move quickly when approaching the animal, and talk in a low, gentle voice to reassure the animal.

General Signs and Symptoms General Signs and Symptoms of infectious bites and scratches


Bites can lead to the following injuries: puncture, lacerations, abrasions or scrapes, bruising and swelling.

Infection is the main concern, noted by swelling, redness, tenderness, pain around the wound, discharge, swollen lymph nodes, shivers and/or high temperature.

Management Management of infectious bites and scratches


General bites
General management includes: stemming the flow of blood, and preventing infection. For any bite, tetanus may develop, so get checked by a healthcare professional who may administer a tetanus booster.

For serious bites, the Australian government health website recommends:

  • Carefully wash the body part that has been bitten off with tap water.
  • Place the part in a plastic bag or container which can be securely sealed.
  • Put the bag or container into iced water (do not place directly onto a block of ice) to keep it cool, as it may be possible to reattach the body part with surgery.
  • Go to your local emergency department immediately, taking the bag or container with you.

For minor bites, the Australian government health website recommends the following:

If the wound is still bleeding:

  • Cover it with a clean cloth then apply pressure with the palm of your hand, then keep the pressure on the wound for 15 minutes.
  • Apply pressure directly over the affected area with a pad made from a clean, rolled up piece of material such as a handkerchief or towel which should be dampened with clean water if possible, as this will reduce the amount of blood soaked up by the material.
  • Use a bandage to wrap around the pad or dressing. Do not wrap the bandage too tightly as it may affect the circulation.
  • If the bleeding is very heavy, it may seep through the bandage. You should use a second dressing to cover the first one.
  • If the bleeding continues through both bandages and pads, remove the second bandage only and apply a new one.
  • Do not look at the wound to see if it has stopped bleeding, in case removing the pressure causes it to start bleeding again.

If the wound is not bleeding:

  • Rinse under running water for two minutes. It might be easier for you to rinse your injury with a shower head, if possible. Pat dry with a clean cloth, then cover the wound with a dry, sterile, non-sticky dressing to help prevent infection.
  • Check the area daily for signs of infection such as increasing pain, redness, swelling or yellow discharge.
  • If you have not had a full course of tetanus immunisation or if your boosters are not up to date contact your doctor.
  • If you are in pain, get advice on medicines you can take from a pharmacist or a doctor.

Leech bites
There is currently no research into best practice for leech removal, so beware of websites and blog posts suggesting best methods to remove leeches! We have gathered some information on their removal and how to avoid them in the leech first aid article.

Dogs and cats
Bites usually occur if the animal is provoked, scared, unwell or protective of puppies. Treat wounds for infection and check tetanus. Likewise for human bites!

Bat bites
Australian bats carry lyssavirus, which has led to fatalities when passed onto humans. Early signs and symptoms are flu-like. The best prevention is to avoid handling bats, however, if you are accidentally bitten or scratched:

  • Immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water for at least five minutes.
  • Apply an antiseptic solution or alcohol gel after washing.