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Animal bites - Symptoms of bites

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Dog bites

Dog bites typically cause a narrow and deep hole in the skin (puncture wound). They can also cause a jagged wound or cut (laceration) and a scraped area of skin (abrasion).

This is because dogs use their front teeth to "pin" their victim, and their other teeth to bite and pull at the surrounding skin.

In adults, most animal bites are to their hands, arms, legs or feet. Due to children's smaller size, most bites are to their face and usually involve their lips, nose or cheek.

Cat bites

A cat bite is not as strong as a dog's, but their teeth are sharper and often cause very deep puncture wounds. A cat bite is capable of penetrating bones and joints. Lacerations and abrasions are less common, occurring in one-in-five cases.

In adults, most cat bites are to their upper limbs, particularly the fingers and hands. In children, as well as the upper limbs, the face and neck can also be bitten.

Human bites

Most human bites are the result of a closed-fist injury, where one person punches another person in the teeth and cuts their hand. Typical symptoms include small cuts to the hand, and red, swollen and painful skin.

Toddlers often bite each other when playing together, but the resulting injuries are usually minor and do not usually pose a serious risk to their health.


The signs and symptoms that suggest that a bite wound has become infected include:

  • redness and swelling around the wound
  • the wound becomes more painful
  • liquid or pus leaks from wound
  • swollen lymph glands (nodes)
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • shivers

When to seek medical advice

Seek immediate medical attention for all but minor dog bites. Even some minor-looking cat bites can penetrate deeply and become infected.

Human bites have a much higher chance of causing infection, so always seek immediate medical attention before waiting for any symptoms of infection to appear.

Always seek immediate medical attention if you or your child receives a bite to the following areas:

  • the hands
  • the feet
  • a joint, tendon, or ligament
  • the scalp or face
  • the genitals
  • the ears or nose

It's also important to seek immediate medical attention if you have a pre-existing condition that increases your chances of infection, such as diabetesliver disease or HIV, or you are undergoing medical treatment that is known to weaken the immune system, such as chemotherapy.

For most bites, you should be able to receive treatment from your GP, walk-in centre or your local minor injuries unit.

However, if the bite wound is more severe or involves bones, joints or tendons, you should visit your local accident and emergency (A&E) department.

Medical Review: March 25, 2012
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