Hand Care and Safety with Animal Bites


Chicago, IL- May 19, 2015 – An estimated 2 million emergency room visits each year result from animal bites.  Although emergency room visits are not always necessary in the event of an animal bite, proper treatment after the injury is important, even if the wound appears to be minor.  Because animal bites of the hand are more likely to become infected than other areas, learning how to prevent and treat these bites is crucial.  Dog bites are the most common type of animal bites, with cat bites at a distant second.  Most people know the animal that bit them; the animal is usually either their own pet or the pet of a close family member or friend.  Dr. Peter Jebson of Spectrum Health Medical Group in Grand Rapids, Michigan has found that dog bites occur more commonly in male victims and cat bites occur more commonly in female victims.

Dog Bites

  • Prevention: One way dog bites commonly occur is when an individual uses his or her hands to break up a fight.  If dogs are fighting, Dr. F. Thomas D. Kaplan of the Indiana Hand to Shoulder Center in Indianapolis, Indiana recommends using “a loud noise or other distraction,” to break up the fight.  Bites may also occur as if a dog is sick and needs medicine, which Dr. Kaplan says should be dispensed while wearing a protective glove.  When approaching an unfamiliar dog, he suggests to“ask for permission to approach them.  Slowly present the back of your hand so they can sniff before you pet.” 
  • Treatment: If a dog bites you, first wash the wound with soap and water.  Dr. Khurram Pervaiz of the Orthoapedic Associates of Central Maryland explains, “Dog bites cause a more nasty-looking wound but usually aren’t very deep.”  Once the wound has been washed, seek medical treatment.  The earlier a bite is treated, the less likely it is that there will be complications, especially if you have diabetes.  Always make sure your tetanus immunization is up-to-date and, if necessary, receive a rabies vaccine.

Cat Bites

  • Prevention: Dr. Pervaiz explained that you should not approach animals when they will likely be the most defensive, such as when they are eating or if there is a mother with her litter.  He also explains that similar to dogs, “Never approach an animal you don’t really know, especially stray or wild animals or if the animal is exhibiting any sign of dangerous behavior.”
  • Treatment: Cat bites are more likely to lead to infection because they may appear benign on the surface but tend to penetrate deeper into the skin than dog bites.  To avoid complications from a cat bite, wash the wound with soap and water immediately, and seek medical attention from an emergency room or urgent care facility.  Cat bites are more likely to strike the muscle sheath that helps you move your fingers, allowing infection to spread up and down the fingers more quickly.  Additionally, cat bites are more likely to reach a bone or joint, making it even more crucial for you to seek help and receive antibiotics if necessary.

When any type of bite occurs, seek medical attention at an urgent care facility or emergency room to reduce the risk of infection significantly.  If an infection occurs, other complications could arise, such as osteomyelitis (infection of the bone), stiffness, multiple surgeries, amputations, organ failure, or even death.

Signs of infection include:

  1. Increased redness and pain around the wound.
  2. Decreased mobility.
  3. Drainage.
  4. Swelling.
  5. Development of an abscess.
  6. Red streaks ascending the arm.
  7. Enlarged lymphnodes.
  8. Fever.

For More Information 

To speak with a local hand surgeon spokesperson in your market, please call Tara Spiess, ASSH, at 312-880-1900.  Visit http://www.handcare.org for more information on hand safety.

About Hand Surgeons

Hand surgeons have received specialized additional training in the treatment of hand problems in addition to their board certified specialty training in orthopedic surgery, plastic surgery or general surgery.  To become members of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, hand surgeons must have completed a full year of such additional training and must pass a rigorous certifying examination.

Many hand surgeons also have expertise with problems of the elbow, arm, and shoulder.  Some hand surgeons treat only children, some treat only adults, and some treat both.  Common problems treated include carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, wrist pain, sports injuries of the hand and wrist, fractures of the hand, wrist, and forearm, and trigger fingers.  Other problems treated by hand surgeons include arthritis, nerve and tendon injuries, and congenital limb differences (birth defects).

Not all problems treated by a hand surgeon require surgery.  Hand surgeons often recommend non-surgical treatments, such as medication, splints, therapy, and injections.  

About the ASSH

The mission of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand is to advance the science and practice of hand and upper extremity surgery through education, research, and advocacy on behalf of patients and practitioners. 

Tara Spiess
822 W. Washington Blvd., Chicago, IL
Ph: 312.880.1900