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Animal and human bites

Serious animal and human bites can get infected if they're not checked and treated quickly.

Always seek medical advice if you have been bitten by an animal or person and the bite has broken the skin.

People and animals have a lot of bacteria in their mouths, which can cause an infection if a bite breaks the skin.

These infections are rarely serious if treated quickly, but occasionally they can spread to the blood or other parts of the body.

Serious infections such as tetanus and rabies are extremely rare in the UK, but it's important to get serious bites looked at as treatment to prevent these infections may be recommended.

The following information is about bites by people and animals such as dogs and cats.

There are separate pages on insect bites and snake bites.

What to do if you have been bitten

If you have been bitten by an animal or another person:

If the bite has severed a body part like a finger or ear, wash it with tap water, wrap it in clean tissue, and store it in a plastic bag surrounded by ice so it can be transported to hospital.

It may be possible to surgically reattach the body part later on.

When to seek medical advice

If the bite has broken the skin, you should seek immediate medical attention after cleaning the wound.

Do not delay seeking help until symptoms of infection appear.

Minor bites can be treated at your GP surgery, or by staff at your local walk-in centre or minor injuries unit.

For particularly severe bites, visit your local A&E department.

The healthcare professional treating you may:

When you return home, watch out for signs of a possible infection.

Signs a bite may be infected

Symptoms that suggest a wound has become infected include:

Get medical help as soon as possible if you think your wound is infected.

When do bites happen?

Although you may be more worried about bites from wild and stray animals, any animal has the potential to bite.

Many bites are actually caused by a person's own pet or an animal belonging to a friend or neighbour.

Animals can act unpredictably and bites are not always provoked. But an animal is more likely to bite if it's been disturbed, feels threatened or gets overexcited.

Most human bites occur when one person punches another person in the mouth.

They can also happen during contact sports, vigorous sex, domestic violence or sexual assault, and fits (seizures).

How to avoid animal bites

Most animal bites are caused by dogs. The advice below may help reduce the chances of being bitten:

It's also a good idea to avoid contact with any wild or stray animals, particularly while travelling abroad, as they can be aggressive and there's a chance they could carry serious infections, such as rabies.