Animal Bites in Children: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

After an animal bite, the biggest concern is infection. The chance of infection depends on the type of animal that bit your child, where on your child's body he or she was bitten, and your child's general health. Many animal bites are not closed with stitches, because this can increase the chance of infection.

The bite may take as little as 7 days or as long as several months to heal, depending on how bad it is. Taking good care of your child's wound at home will help it heal and reduce the chance of infection.

The doctor has checked your child carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • If your doctor told you how to care for your child's wound, follow your doctor's instructions. If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:
    • After 24 to 48 hours, remove the bandage and then gently wash the wound with clean water 2 times a day. Do not scrub or soak the wound. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
    • You may cover the wound with a thin layer of petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, and a non-stick bandage.
    • Apply more petroleum jelly and replace the bandage as needed.
  • After your child takes a bath or shower, gently dry the wound with a clean towel.
  • If your doctor has closed the wound, cover the bandage with a plastic bag before your child takes a bath or shower.
  • A small amount of skin redness and swelling around the wound edges and the stitches or staples is normal. Your child's wound may itch or feel irritated. Do not let your child scratch or rub the wound.
  • Ask your doctor if you can give your child an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not give your child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • If your child's bite puts him or her at risk for rabies, your child will get a series of shots over the next few weeks to prevent rabies. Your doctor will tell you when your child needs to get the shots. It is very important that your child gets the full cycle of shots. Follow your doctor's instructions exactly.
  • Your child may need a tetanus shot if he or she has not received one in the last 5 years.
  • If the doctor prescribed antibiotics for your child, give them as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • The skin near the bite turns cold or pale or it changes colour.
  • Your child loses feeling in the area near the bite, or it feels numb or tingly.
  • Your child has trouble moving a limb near the bite.
  • Your child has symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness near the wound.
    • Red streaks leading from the wound.
    • Pus draining from the wound.
    • A fever.
  • Blood soaks through the bandage. Oozing small amounts of blood is normal.
  • Your child's pain is getting worse.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if your child is not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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