By: Stephanie Shabangu, Penfield Children’s Center
Reviewed by: Kelsey Sorvick, RN, Penfield Children’s Center

Animals can be cute, cuddly and they can bite! According to the World Health Organization, about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year.  While pets cause most animal bites, kids (and adults!) can be susceptible to bites while adventuring outdoors. Oftentimes, a child might pick up a hurt or lost animal, only to be bitten by the animal acting in self-defense.

Animals such as snakes, raccoons, mice, bats and others also carry the risk of rabies, as well as domestic animals if they have not been vaccinated. Rabies can be passed to humans through the saliva of an animal who is infected by the virus. So, if your child is bitten by a wild animal, regardless of the severity of the bite, it is important to see a doctor. Rabies is a deadly virus and when someone begins to show signs of having rabies, the virus is already taking a toll on the body and can be fatal. Bats, for example, can carry rabies and if you awake to find a bat in your room, it is important to seek medical help because of the threat of not waking from a bite while sleeping. It can also be difficult for young children or those with disabilities to communicate that they were bitten, so if you suspect a bite did occur, seek medical help right away. As a preventative measure, make sure to speak with your child’s doctor about the rabies vaccine if you feel he/she has potential to come in contact with animals infected with rabies. Finally, if you will be traveling to a country where rabies is common, make sure to visit a travel clinic for recommendations on staying safe from the virus.

In addition to taking steps to reduce the risk of rabies, doctors recommend keeping children up-to-date on tetanus shots. While the bite itself does not actually cause tetanus, an open wound will allow tetanus to enter the body. Before they turn 2 years old, children will most likely receive 4 doses of the DTaP, a booster shot between 4 and 6 years, and then another booster at about 12 years old. From then on, tetanus and diphtheria boosters are given every 10 years.

If your child is bitten by a pet who you know has been vaccinated and the bite does not break the skin, make sure to wash the affected area well with water and soap. Then, apply an antibiotic cream, such as Neosporin or something similar to the bite mark. This will help heal the area and reduce risk of infection. Continue to monitor the bite and if you notice swelling, a wound starting to open up or your child complains of discomfort, make sure to consult a medical professional. If the bite creates a puncture in the skin causing bleeding, apply pressure to the wound with a dry cloth and seek medical help immediately.

While it might not be impossible to avoid all nips and bites from animals, there are steps you as a parent can take to help prevent your child from being bitten:

  • Teach your child that any animal (and any breed) can bite. Always ask the animal’s owner if it is okay to pet the animal before allowing your child to do so.
  • Never allow your child to chase after an animal.
  • Do not tease or taunt an animal.
  • Respect the animal’s time to eat. Do not attempt to play with an animal while he/she is eating as this could cause unnecessary aggravation for the animal and cause him/her to lash out.

While teaching your child about animal safety, it is important to provide education while not instilling excessive fear in the child. Most children come into contact with animals on a daily basis and this can be a very rewarding and nurturing experience. With a few precautionary steps, parents can help keep kids safe and allow them to enjoy the company of their favorite furry friends.

How have you helped keep your little one calm while interacting with animals?



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