In three years of working at the Danville SPCA, Shaylan Martin has only been bitten by an animal once.
“A cat was extremely stressed out during a medical intake. It bit one of my fingers, and I used sanitizer and got it checked at the ER, as is our protocol,” she said. “The finger swelled up and was on my left hand. I’m left-handed, so that made things pretty interesting when trying to fill out intake paperwork.”
The quick swelling Martin experienced isn’t surprising, according to Angela Kline of Evangelical Community Hospital.
“Cat bites are typically worse than dog when it comes to infection. They carry a certain bacteria on the teeth, and when they bite deeply, that bacteria can fester and cause an infection,” she said. “Usually about 50 percent of cat bites lead to infection vs. 15 percent of dog bites.”
Kline added that she recommends any deep cat bite to be seen by a medical professional, and that she always treats such wounds with an antibiotic to be safe.
Domesticated animal bites make up most of what Dr. Denise Torres sees in terms of animal vs. human-based wounds.
“In terms of number of cases, dog bites are the biggest,” she said.
First aid for such a wound starts as it does for any cut, puncture or abrasion that breaks the skin.
“If it is bleeding, hold pressure to stop the bleeding and then wash the wound out,” Torres said. “Animals carry bacteria, so any such bite should receive medical attention, whether it is at the emergency room, urgent care or through the family doctor.”
At the ER, doctors will assess the best course of treatment, according to Erin Zaharick of UPMC Susquehanna.
“We wash the wound and patients typically will get a tetanus shot if they are not updated,” she said. “We may need to do a rabies series, too, and then typically use an antibiotic ointment with a clean, dry dressing.”
It is important to know the immunization records of any pet, but if that is unknown, observation can offer clues to whether or not it is infected.
“We usually put dogs into quarantine and watch for symptoms,” Torres said.