Animal Bites: 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 you, where on your body you were bitten, and your general health. Many animal bites are not closed with stitches, because this can increase the chance of infection.

Your 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 wound at home will help it heal and reduce your chance of infection.

The doctor has checked you 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 treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • If your doctor told you how to care for your wound, follow your doctor's instructions. If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:
    • After 24 to 48 hours, 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 you shower, gently dry the wound with a clean towel.
  • If your doctor has closed the wound, cover the bandage with a plastic bag before you take a shower.
  • Your doctor may advise you to remove the bandage after 24 to 48 hours and then gently wash the wound to remove the crust. Do not scrub or soak the wound.
  • A small amount of skin redness and swelling around the wound edges and the stitches or staples is normal. Your wound may itch or feel irritated. Do not scratch or rub the wound.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not take 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 bite puts you at risk for rabies, you will get a series of shots over the next few weeks to prevent rabies. Your doctor will tell you when to get the shots. It is very important that you get the full cycle of shots. Follow your doctor's instructions exactly.
  • You may need a tetanus shot if you have not received one in the last 5 years.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need 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.
  • You lose feeling in the area near the bite, or it feels numb or tingly.
  • You have trouble moving a limb near the bite.
  • You have 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 pain is getting worse.

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

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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