KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — It’s important to teach children how to be safe around animals including the family pet. Most bites and scratches come from animals a child knows, and these types of injuries can be serious. East Tennessee Children’s Hospital Emergency Room Director Dr. Ryan Redman talks about when you should see a doctor for animal bites and scratches.

Do all animal bites need to be seen by a doctor? 

If the bite is from a wild animal always take your child to see a pediatrician. If the scratch or bite from any animal breaks the skin, a physician needs to be seen.

Diseases spread by animal bites 

While rabies is possible, infection is more likely from bites, especially those from cats. The bitten area can become infected by bacteria from the animal’s mouth.

What about scratches? 

Cat scratch disease, a bacterial infection, can be transmitted by a cat scratch, even if the site doesn’t look infected.

What first aid steps should you take if a child is bitten by an animal?

If injuries are severe call 911 immediately, but if the bite is minor:

  • Wash bite area with soap and water
  • Apply pressure with sterile gauze or clean cloth if bleeding
  • Apply antibiotic ointment
  • Cover area with bandage or sterile gauze
  • Offer acetaminophen or ibuprofen

When to bring the child to the ER 

A child should be brought to the emergency room for a bite or scratch when:

  • Wound is on face or neck
  • Wound won’t stop bleeding
  • Wound appears deep or large
  • Attacking animal is wild or was behaving strangely
  • Bite or scratch becomes red, hot, swollen or increasingly painful


Always watch children closely around animals. Teach kids not to tease pets, to handle them gently, and to stay away from wild or stray animals.

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