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Animal Bites

No matter how affectionate a pet can be, bites and scratches are always a possibility when you’re dealing with animals. Most often, a good cleaning and perhaps antibiotic ointment takes care of the wound but sometimes, these bites and scratches can result in a bacterial infection. Occasionally, these infections can trigger sepsis. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are approximately 4.5 million dog bites in the United States over the course of a year and almost 800,000 people need medical care as a result of a bite. They note that children most commonly bitten, even with dogs that they are familiar with and have interacted with before without incident. There are about 400,000 cat bites each year as well, but there are no statistics on other types of animal bites or scratches.

Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s often deadly response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who do survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue, organ dysfunction (organs don’t work properly), and/or amputations.

Animal bites

An animal bite that breaks your skin exposes you to multiple bacteria, both from bacteria that may be on your skin and bacteria in the animal’s mouth. If the bite barely breaks the skin, you have a better chance of cleaning the wound well and preventing infection. But deep bites are puncture wounds and bacteria can go in deeply with these types of bites.

Dog bites are the most common ones related to pets, but cat bites cause 10% to 20% of animal bites in the U.S. At first, they may not appear to cause as much damage as dog bites, but their smaller teeth and deep punctures can make it hard to clean out a wound properly.

Many households, especially with children, have pets like guinea pigs and hamsters. These animals can also bite and cause infections.

Signs of an infected bite may include:

  • Growing redness around the scratch
  • Increasing pain
  • Oozing from the wound
  • Fever

If an animal bites you, it’s important to check with the owner to ensure that the vaccinations are up-to-date. If not, see your doctor and explain which vaccinations the dog did not have. If you don’t know the dog that bit you, this should be reported to animal control in your area.

Scratches

All scratches, even human ones, can become infected. Signs of an infected scratch are similar to that of a bite.

Cat scratch disease is an illness literally caused by a cat’s scratch. It is caused by the Bartonella henselae bacteria. Although the infection can happen anytime throughout the year, it is more common in the fall and winter. If a cat scratches you, clean the wound well and watch for signs of infection. These include:

  • A small blister or pimple filled with pus (called a pustule) near the scratch
  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes

If you see any signs of infection, see your doctor as soon as possible to see if you need antibiotics.

If you have an animal bite or scratch, be sure to clean the wound thorough with warm running water. Keep the wound clean and dry until a scab forms, to reduce the risk of infection.

If you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital and tell your medical professional, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.

Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.

Reviewed November 1, 2021.

Read Personal Stories of Sepsis and Animal Bites

Roberta Beddows

Survivor

Year 2016 my friends dog was choking on a bone. A very small dog, I picked her up and put my fingers in to get it out. On the way out I got a tiny cut and it bled. (Sepsis and Animal Bites) When I got home I disinfected my finger. Never thinking much about it, approximately 3 days later,  I was in a terrible state: temperature, delirious, vomiting, diarrhea, pain. I dragged myself to the hospital. Told them how I felt. Also about the little cut. They examined me and then sent me home. I could hardly stand. Taxi ... Read Full Story

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Christine Caron

Survivor, Survivor

Can you imagine waking up in ICU, being informed you have been there for a month… and having no idea how you got there?! Spring 2013, I had not been feeling quite myself for months. I had been under some heavy stress in both my personal and professional life. I had an infected blemish on my face and reoccurring bronchitis. May 16th, I was playing tug’a’war outside with my dogs when one accidentally nipped my left hand. (Sepsis and Animal Bites) This was not an act of aggression. I properly cleaned and disinfect the tiny break in the skin. There ... Read Full Story

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Molly G.

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

Christmas Day 2013 I woke up not feeling good. I had been fighting horrible back pain for almost a year so it wasn’t unusual. We were supposed to join relatives for the day but we canceled so I went up to bed. A little later I tried to go downstairs for water but stumbled and when husband ask how I was I could only mumble. At that point he packed me up and took me to ER. They did not see any signs of illness except my mental state and high temperature. They began antibiotic IV and decided to intubate ... Read Full Story

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Shaninlea Visser

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

I would love to share my story with you and you can read up on me on my Facebook page “Shan Living Life”, through all of this I remain positive, determined and motivated to get my life back on track. I became a quadruple amputee due to septicemia with DIC in January 2017. (Sepsis and Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC), Sepsis and Amputations) I was bitten by a mongoose on January 15, 2017 and became ill on the night of January 17, 2017. (Sepsis and Animal Bites) I ended up in ICU on January 18, 2017, and was put on a ... Read Full Story

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Jennifer Halet

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

On August 4th, 2014, as I was leaving my friend’s home, her cat ran out and was jumped by a large feral cat. I pulled her out and she bit directly into a vein on my hand. (Sepsis and Animal Bites) Blood was flowing as I threw her into the house. I cleaned the wound with antibiotic soap and hydrogen peroxide. I wrapped it in peroxide soaked bandages and took my bloody clothes to the cleaners and began to do laundry, calling an urgent med clinic to get antibiotics. I do wildlife rehabilitation and know that we must get amoxicillin ... Read Full Story

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Animal Bites

No matter how affectionate a pet can be, bites and scratches are always a possibility when you’re dealing with animals. Most often, a good cleaning and perhaps antibiotic ointment takes care of the wound but sometimes, these bites and scratches can result in a bacterial infection. Occasionally, these infections can trigger sepsis. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are approximately 4.5 million dog bites in the United States over the course of a year and almost 800,000 people need medical care as a result of a bite. They note that children most commonly bitten, even with dogs that they are familiar with and have interacted with before without incident. There are about 400,000 cat bites each year as well, but there are no statistics on other types of animal bites or scratches.