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Millions of people are injured by domestic and wild animals in the U.S. each year. While infection is the most common complication of animal bites and animal scratches, rabies is also a major concern.

First Aid for Animal Bites and Animal Scratches

If the wound is bleeding, you should apply constant, firm pressure until the bleeding stops. If the wound is superficial, simply wash it thoroughly with soap and water before applying antibiotic cream and covering it with a clean bandage. Seek medical attention from your nearest FastMed clinic if the wound is deep, gaping, or the skin is badly torn, since you may require stitches.

You should seek medical attention if the wound shows signs of infection, including:

  • Drainage
  • Increased redness
  • Swelling
  • Warmth
  • Increased or prolonged pain

If not treated, the infection can become more severe. Signs that the infection may have spread include:

  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen glands
  • Red streaks traveling from the area of the bite
  • Shakes

Both localized and systemic infections may require treatment with oral or intravenous antibiotics. Depending on the circumstances, the healthcare provider may obtain a culture swab of the wound to identify the bacteria or fungus causing the infection and the most effective antibiotic for treatment.

You should also seek immediate medical attention if you have symptoms of blood or nerve damage, including:

  • Excessive or prolonged bleeding
  • Visible deformity
  • Loss of motion in the affected extremity
  • Pale appearance or numbness at the site of the bite
  • Unusual swelling or bruising

In these situations, your provider may perform X-rays or other imaging tests to determine if there are any foreign objects, like teeth, which can cause infections, or bone fractures.   

Will I Need Rabies Shots?

You should provide your provider with as much information as possible about the circumstances surrounding your bite or scratch injury so that they can determine if rabies treatment may be required. If you can identify the animal, it may be possible to place the animal in quarantine for observation. If the animal was wild or likely to carry rabies, such as a bat, the provider may recommend shots as a preventative measure. The majority of rabies cases in the U.S. involve wild animals, such as bats, foxes, raccoons, and skunks.

Is it Possible to Get Dog Scratch Rabies?

Rabies is spread by contact with the saliva or brain tissue of an infected animal. Although extremely unlikely, dog scratch rabies is theoretically possible if the dog has saliva on its claws and manages to break the skin with a scratch.

What Happens if a Human Gets Rabies?

Getting bitten by a wild or unfamiliar animal naturally raises the question, “What happens if a human gets rabies?” The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system, eventually causing a fatal inflammation of the brain. The virus can lie dormant for several months, so the individual may not even realize that they are infected.

The initial symptoms, which include fatigue, fever, cough, headache, and sore throat, can progress rapidly. As the virus attacks the central nervous system, the individual may experience hallucinations, partial paralysis, a fear of water, and slip into a coma before dying.

Once the symptoms start, there is little that can be done. Prompt treatment with rabies injections is the best treatment if there is any doubt regarding the rabies status of the animal. The first rabies vaccine was developed in 1885 by Louis Pasteur and Emile Roux. The vaccine is so successful that the number of human deaths from rabies in the U.S. has dropped from more than 100 per year at the turn of the 20th century to only one or two per year now.

Preventing Animal Bites and Animal Scratches

Animals typically bite or scratch when they are scared, sick, or trying to protect their territory or young. Most bite and scratch injuries can be avoided by commonsense measures, including:

  • Never feed, pet, or handle strange animals
  • Never handle snakes
  • Monitor children closely when they are around animals
  • Wear appropriate protective gear when handling potentially dangerous animals
  • Ensure that all of your pets get regular rabies shots
  • Spay or neuter your pet to lessen the chance that they will stray or become aggressive
  • Get a tetanus booster if you have not had one within the past 10 years

FastMed is open during extended hours, 365 days a year to treat any injuries that may come your way. Instead of waiting hours in an emergency room, our convenient online check-in process makes it possible to see one of our providers quickly, without an appointment. We have more than 100 locations throughout Arizona, North Carolina, and Texas, so the help you need is never far away.

About FastMed

FastMed Urgent Care owns and operates nearly 200 centers in North Carolina, Arizona and Texas that provide a broad range of acute/episodic and preventive healthcare services 365 days a year. FastMed also provides workers’ compensation and other occupational health services at all its centers, and family and sports medicine services at select locations. FastMed has successfully treated more than six million patients and is the only independent urgent care operator in North Carolina, Arizona and Texas to be awarded The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for quality, safety and infection control in ambulatory healthcare. For more information about locations, services, hours of operation, insurance and prices, visit

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