When exploring the great outdoors, you always have to consider the possibility of running into one of its residents. While most of these encounters are harmless and leave you with nothing but a scare, in some circumstances, you may not be so lucky. If it’s got a mouth, you may very well end up with scars from animal bites, or even worse.
Today we will discuss how we can handle and treat animal bites regardless if they come from wild animals or from the furry friends living in your own home. Since the average human spends a lot of time in close proximity to cats, dogs, and other animals, it pays knowing how to handle and treat animal bites, but also how to prevent them from happening in the first place.
🚑 Meeting the fangs
It is estimated that half of all US residents will experience one or more animal bites in their lifetime. In fact, the number of animal bite counts in the millions, and it has become harder to keep accurate statistics. The one thing we do know for sure is that more than one percent of emergency room visits can be attributed to some sort of animal bite. Even more, almost 90 percent of victims are children, and they end up in the ER after interacting with dogs or cats.
The good news is that deaths caused by animal bites are rare, and most interaction will leave you with some scars to help you remember the encounter. However, bleeding, pain, nerve and tissue damage, infection, and even crush injuries can be quite common. Some of these injuries require surgical repairs, and they can cause psychological trauma.
🐕 The canine family
🥺 Dog bites
It is estimated that dog bites account for 80 percent of all injuries caused by animals, and most of these won’t make the news unless a fatality occurs. Being bitten by someone’s pet on or near your property is not as sensational as being bitten by a wolf or maybe a coyote.
However, the number of dogs attack shouldn’t be ignored, especially if you take into account that around 30 cases of dog attacks turn fatal every year. Usually, Rottweilers, Pit bulls, Dobermans, and German shepherds are some of the breeds that will cause significant bite injuries. Even the fluffy husky breed that is known for its difficult temper can cause serious bite damage.
An adult dog has 42 teeth designed to rip, shred and tear flesh, and it’s no wonder that some canine bites will cause gaping lacerations with flesh torn off. Even more, the bite area can swell considerably from the bite’s pressure, and infections are common.
🐺 Wolf and coyote bites
Although in the same animal family, and somehow similar in the eyes of many, there are distinctive characteristics between a wolf and a coyote. The size, weight, and strength of a coyote cannot be compared to that of a wolf. The same can be said about their bites, and a wolf bites much harder (twice the bite force of a German shepherd). Think about it like this, the wolf has such an incredible bite force that they can actually chew through femurs of large animals such as elk and moose. On the other hand, the bite of a coyote is similar to that of a medium-sized dog.
The good news is that wolves haven’t managed so far to adapt to the civilized world as compared to coyotes. Since the coyotes have constantly increased their range over the years, you have much more chances to encounter one in your suburban neighborhood.
Even so, you shouldn’t let your guard down if you spot a wolf or a coyote because, contrary to popular beliefs, such animals will attack humans if the opportunity arises.
🐈 The feline family
Around 15 percent of animal bites sustained by humans are attributed to felines each year. The numbers may be much higher, but since most cats are small and the bites they are causing don’t seem so serious, many of these “accidents” don’t end up in the statistics.
Since Americans love their exotic cats, there is no wonder that some of these animal bites are caused by hybrid breeds with genetics coming from Savannah or Bengal cats.
Since the trauma of a cat bite is small, these bites are often ignored. However, the puncture wounds caused by cat teeth are often quite deep and are more likely to cause infection (around 50 percent of bites) compared to dog bites when infection occurs in less than 10 percent of bites.
The reason for such a high rate of infection in cat bites is the depth of the wound and the inability to clean it properly. Their needle-like teeth will push bacteria deep into the skin tissue, tendons, and joints. Signs of swelling, redness, and pain are clear indicators that an infection may settle in.
Besides its 30 teeth, a domestic cat will also use its sharp claws in an attack or during a defensive action. Some of these scratches can lead to infection, and you will get cat scratch fever.
🐾 Cougar, Bobcat, and Lynx bites
Although attacks caused by such big cats are rare, fatalities do occur from time to time. Being attacked by a mountain lion is not a pleasant experience, and bites from these felines will often cause laceration, broken bones, and even crush damage.
Although most of these cats are shy by nature, an unexpected encounter with a big cat can leave you with deep bites and deep claw wounds that are far worse than those of domestic cats. If you encounter these cats during your hiking trips, keep your distance, and avoid contact. Don’t linger around, taking pictures and videos, hoping to see what the cat will do next. You might not enjoy the outcome of such an interaction.
A while ago, there was a video online about a man that had an encounter with a bear, and it was pretty explanatory what damage these large mammals can cause. Their claw and bite wounds can cause incredible damage to the human body, and if the victim is lucky enough to survive the encounter, intensive care and extensive surgical procedures will be needed.
In North America, you have three species you should worry about: we have the black bears, the brown bears with their Grizzly cousins, and we also have polar bears. Of the three, the most powerful bite is the one of polar bears. Regardless of the bear species, a bite from these large mammals will leave you with broken bones, severe hemorrhage, and a significant loss of soft tissue.
The bad news concerning bears is that similar to wolves, they also show predatory behavior towards humans, and they will attack if given the opportunity. Since their attacks often result in fatalities, you should learn more about their behavior and how to stay safe in areas where bears live.
Recommended reading: Tactics For Avoiding And Surviving Bear Attacks
The rodents have a distinctive characteristic, and their pair of continuously growing incisors in the upper and lower jaws can cause quite the damage. Members of the Rodentia family include rats, mice, squirrels, porcupines, beavers, and many others.
The teeth of such animals are very sharp and quite long, and they will cause smaller bites, but those bites can be deep and very painful. In the ER, there are a lot of cases involving wounds caused by rat bites. The problem with rat bites is that regardless of the wound (deep or shallow), they can all transmit diseases such as rat-bite fever and tularemia.
🦇 Other small animals
There are other animals that can cause painful bites such as raccoons, skunks, opossums, and foxes. Although some of these injuries are minor, the most common concern of such bites is the fact that these animals can be carriers of the rabies virus. Raccoons and foxes carry the disease, and if you do a little bit of research, you will discover how awful the rabies virus is.
Bats are also worth mentioning, and as a side note, my wife has an irrational fear of rat bites. She’s not afraid of their bites, which usually are minimal and often go unnoticed. However, she is much more concerned about the deadly diseases these “flying rats” carry. Deadly diseases, such as Ebola and rabies.
🩹 How to treat animal bites
Before we cover this topic, we have to acknowledge the fact that most small animal bites won’t cause significant trauma, but even so, there should be proper care of such wounds. On the other hand, large animal bites are a more serious issue.
Animal bites caused by defensive action are quite different and less life-threatening than those caused by animal attacks. When a wild animal attacks, the victim will be knocked down, bitten repeatedly, and often injured by claws. Those injured during a wild animal attack will present multiple bleeding lacerations with significant soft tissue damage.
All major injuries caused by large animals should be treated as you would do in cases of any type of trauma. First of all, make sure the danger is no longer present before providing first aid. Bears will often return to finish the fight, so it’s a smart thing to leave the area.
If a wound is actively bleeding, you have to apply pressure to it after you’ve covered the area with a dressing or cloth barrier. Since you don’t know what disease the animal may carry, it is recommended to wear gloves. Apply firm direct pressure and observe the progress of the bleeding. If the dressing becomes saturated, you have to apply a fresh cloth barrier on top of the first one.
If the bleeding is bright red and spurting from the site, a better first step is to apply a tourniquet. It’s recommended having in your bag a tourniquet set, a good supply of sterile bandages as well as hemostatic dressings.
If you use blood-clotting products, remove saturated bandages first, and pack the hemostatic dressing at the point of bleeding. Cover with a pressure dressing.
As said earlier, small animal bites leave marks that are insignificant, and few people are aware that any puncture of the skin should be treated properly. Any skin wound can leave the victim open to infection.
If you or any of your loved ones are bitten by a small animal, do the following:
- If the skin is broken, you should definitely seek medical care
- If you end up with a bleeding wound, you should control the bleeding as described above
- Make sure you clean the wound properly and thoroughly with soap and water for a few minutes.
- Use a 60-100 cc irrigation syringe filled with clean water to flush the wound. This will help remove the embedded dirt and saliva that may contain bacteria.
- Even if the skin is intact, make sure you wash off any oral bacteria residue from the animal.
- Use an antiseptic on the wound to decrease the chance of infection
- Remove any rings, jewelry, or watches if you suffered a bite wound to the hand. If the area starts to swallow, it may be difficult to remove such items afterward.
- Ice can be used to decrease swelling, bruising, and pain
- Apply an antibiotic ointment to the affected area.
- Make sure you clean and cover a recovering bite wound as frequently as needed.
- Some bite wounds may leave severed body parts (often happens with fingers), so if that’s the case, recover the body part, wash it clean, then wrap it in a sterile dressing and store it in ice. Severed body parts like fingers and ears can be easily reattached with the help of modern surgical procedures.
Special care needs to be provided to children who suffer from animal bites. In their cases, trauma can settle in, and professional counseling needs to be provided. Discuss with your kids and teach them about the risks of animal bites and how they should avoid interaction with stray and wild animals.
Use your common sense and never leave children unattended around animals. There should always be an able-bodied person present to prevent tragic interaction between animals and children.
🛑 How to prevent animal bites
Certain animals have a distinctive behavior pattern, and it’s quite difficult to discuss each interaction we have with a typical animal in a single article. However, the simplest way to prevent animal bites is to stay away from unfamiliar domestic animals and especially from wildlife.
How you handle your pets also plays an important role in preventing animal bites. You should discourage aggressive play in the early months and monitor your pet’s interaction with children at all times, if possible.
When it comes to wildlife, there are different strategies for avoiding bear attacks or handling cougar and canine encounters. There are certain strategies that cannot be applied to different species. For example, you should never maintain eye contact with dogs, while in the case of cougars, the contrary is recommended.
On the other hand, a common strategy that applies to most, if not all, animal encounters is to avoid running way since such action is considered prey behavior and will trigger a predatory response.
When hiking alone and you encounter a large carnivore, you should try to appear as large as possible, and some people raise their backpacks or walking poles above their heads. When given a chance, they will slowly back away in the direction they came from.
Carrying bear spray or defensive items like reliable pocket revolvers should be considered when traveling to areas where large animals live. There’s also safety in numbers, and large carnivores will hesitate to attack groups of more than two people. Look for the company when exploring unknown territory.
Thank you for visiting Prepper’s Will and reading this article!
When the beasts attack, the outcome may sometimes become a tragedy. Luckily most encounters with domestic and wild animals will be nothing more than a scare. Even in cases where animal bites are involved, the wounds can be properly treated with or without professional medical care.
Our recommendation is to go to a medical facility if you are attacked by an animal since you have no means at home to figure out what deadly disease the animal may carry. Treat any animal bite as you would any contaminated wound.
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