Health Check A-Z
If you have been bitten by an animal or human, it's important to clean the wound immediately.
Remove anything from the bite, such as teeth, and clean the wound thoroughly by running warm tap water over it for a couple of minutes.
Encourage the wound to bleed by gently squeezing it, unless it is already bleeding freely. If you require pain relief, take over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol.
Children under 16 should not take aspirin.
If the bite is serious, or a body part such as a finger or ear has been bitten off, wash the body part with tap water and place it in a plastic bag or a sealed container. Put the container into a tub of iced water (but not frozen) to keep it cool, so that it can be transported to hospital. It may be possible to re-attach the body part using reconstructive surgery.
Severe bites needing medical treatment will be cleaned and any damaged or dead tissue will be removed (debridement).
If there is a risk of infection, the wound will be left open. This makes it easy to keep the wound clean. If the risk of infection is thought to be low, the wound can be stitched up.
To prevent blood loss, wounds that bleed excessively are closed, despite the risk of infection.
Antibiotics are given as a precaution when it is thought that there is an increased risk of infection.
Antibiotics are usually recommended for:
- all cases of cat bites
- all cases of human bites
- animal bites to the hands, feet, or face
- any bites that have caused puncture wounds
- wounds that required closure due to excessive bleeding
- wounds that required debridement
- wounds that involve joints, ligaments or tendons
- people with prosthetic (artificial) joints or valves
- people with a weakened immune system (immunosuppression) due to a health condition such as diabetes or HIV, or as a side effect of treatments such as chemotherapy
In most cases, a seven-day course of an antibiotic called co-amoxiclav is recommended as this type of medication is effective against a wide range of different bacteria (a broad-spectrum antibiotic). Co-amoxiclav is available in tablet form or as a liquid you can drink.
Side effects of co-amoxiclav include:
- being sick
- feeling sick
If this is the case, you should tell the doctor in charge of your care as alternative antibiotics are available, such as metronidazole.
Additional treatment may be required if:
- You received a deep puncture wound that may have damaged bones, joints, muscles, tendons or nerves.
- You received a facial wound.
- You received a bite where a foreign body, such as a tooth, may be embedded in the wound.
- You received a wound to areas of your body that have a reduced blood supply, such your nose or ears (wounds to these areas could take longer to heal and have a higher risk of infection).
- You have an infected wound that does not respond to treatment.
Further reconstructive surgery may be required for serious or complex wounds. Serious infections, or infections that do not respond to oral antibiotics, can be treated with injections of antibiotics (intravenous antibiotics).