Sepsis and Animal Bites

No matter how affectionate a pet can be, bites and scratches are always a possibility when you’re dealing with animals. Cleaning the wound well and perhaps applying antibiotic ointment often takes care of it, but sometimes, these bites and scratches can result in a bacterial infection.  According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are approximately 4.5 million dog bites in the United States over a year, and almost 800,000 people need medical care due to a bite. The site notes that children are 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. Any of these bites or scratches could lead to sepsis.

Sepsis, which was often called blood poisoning, is the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Suggested Citation:
Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis and Animal Bites. 2023.

Updated November 13, 2023.


More About Animal Bites

Animal Bites

An animal bite that breaks your skin exposes you to multiple bacteria, from what is on your skin and 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 deep 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 wound
  • Increasing pain
  • Oozing from the wound
  • Fever

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


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. The Bartonella henselae bacteria cause it. 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 thoroughly with warm running water. Keep the wound clean and dry until a scab forms to reduce the risk of infection.

People Who Are Immunosuppressed

If you have a suppressed immune system and you have a pet or are in contact with pets, be aware that bacterial infections can still spread even without evidence of a scratch or bite. Some people have become seriously ill after their pet licked them on an area where there was a break in their skin, such as a scrape or nick. Bacteria in a pet’s mouth, such as Capnocytophaga, may cause serious illness to people who are immunocompromised, and this can lead to sepsis. It is rare, but it is possible.

Related Resources

Information Guide

Bacterial Infections

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M. Lee Fleming

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Molly G.

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Christine Caron

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Shaninlea Visser

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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Animal Bites