Presenting problem: Bite Wounds

Key Points

  • Triage the bite wound patient for life threatening internal injuries such as coelomic penetration.
  • Stabilize the patient before initiating wound management. Provide hemostasis, supplemental oxygen, and supplemental heat as needed.
  • The superficial appearance of a bite wound can be misleading. Deeper structures often suffer from hematoma formation, necrosis, and bacterial invasion.
  • Bite wound infections are often polymicrobial, involving a broad mixture of aerobic and anaerobic bacteria.
  • The danger of infection caused by Pasteurella spp. is high in victims of cat bite wounds.
  • Reduce the risk of bite wounds in reptiles by feeding pre-killed prey and removing uneaten prey items within 15-30 minutes.
  • A broad spectrum beta-lactamase inhibiting antibiotic like amoxicillin-clavulanate is a commonly used to treat bite wounds in patients with simple guts such as ferrets and parrots.
  • The risk of dysbiosis makes beta-lactams a dangerous choice for hindgut fermenters, like rabbits and many rodents, therefore potentiated sulfa drugs or fluroquinolones are popular choices in these species.
  • Good bandaging practice protects the wound from contamination and supports the wound while it heals.

Bite wounds are not confined to small animal practice. Bite wounds are a common and significant problem in clinical practice, and LafeberVet's presenting problem article features urgent care tips for this universal problem of veterinary patients. The incidence of bite wounds increases with a history of exposure to the outdoors or to other animals. The owner may even report a fight or interaction that results in a bite wound . . .

To continue you need to be a member. (Français), (Español)

Pour continuer, vous devez être un membre

Para continuar, debe ser miembro de

Already a LafeberVet Member?

Please Login


Abrahamian FM, Goldstein EJ. Microbiology of animal bite wound infections. Clin Microbiol Rev 24(2):231-246, 2011.

Adler AC, Cestero C, Brown RB. Septic shock from Pasteurella multocida following a cat bite: case report and review of literature. Conn Med 75(10):603-605, 2011.

Barten SL. Bites from prey. In: Mader DR (ed). Reptile Medicine and Surgery, 2nd ed. St. Louis: Saunders Elsevier; 2006. Pp. 747-749.

Berkowitz FE, Jacobs DWC. Fatal case of brain abscess caused by rooster pecking. Pediatr Infect Dis 6(10):941-942, 1987.

Brook I. Microbiology and management of human and animal bite wound infections. Prim Care Clin Office Pract 30(1):25-39, 2003.

Campbell B. Taking the bite out of bite wounds. Proc International Vet Emerg Critical Care Symp 2012

Collins C, Flanagan B, Henning JS. An atypical presentation of a Pasteurella multocida infection following a cat bite: a case report. Cutis 89(6):269-272, 2012.

Cummings P. Antibiotics to prevent infection in patients with bite wounds: a meta-analysis of randomized trials. Annals Emerg Med 23(3):535-540, 1994.

Davis B, Wenzel RP. Striges scalp: Bacteroides infection after an owl attack. J Infect Dis 165(5):975-976, 1992.

Devey J, Schmidt CM. Antiseptics, disinfectants, and sterilization. In: Burkitt Creedon JM, Davis H (eds). Advanced Monitoring and Procedures for Small Animal Emergency and Critical Care. Ames, Iowa: Wiley-Blackwell; 2012. Pp. 725-726.

Dog Facts. National Geographic’s Dr. Brady Barr’s bite pressure tests. Dog Facts blog. Available at Posted Feb 3, 2008. Accessed on October 28, 2012.

Eberly RJ, Hayek LJ. Antibiotic prophylaxis after a swan bite. Lancet 350(9074):340, 1997.

Fischer RG, Edwardsson S, Klinge B. Oral microflora of the ferret at the gingival sulcus and mucosa membrane in relation to ligature-induced periodontitis. Oral Microbiol Immunol 9(1):40-49, 1994.

Ford RB, Mazzaferro EM. Wound management. In: RB Ford, EM Mazzaferr (eds). Kirk and Bistner’s Handbook of Veterinary Procedures and Emergency Treatment, 9th ed. Elsevier Saunders, St. Louis, 2012. Pp. 274-278.

Garzotto CK. Wound management. In: Silverstein DC, Hopper K (eds). Small Animal Critical Care Medicine. St. Louis: Saunders Elsevier: 2009. Pp. 676-682.

Gollop JH, Katz AR, Rudoy RC, Sasaki DM. Rat-bite leptospirosis. West J Med 159(1):76-77, 1993.

Grim KD, Doherty C, Rosen T. Serratia marcescens bullous cellulitis after iguana bites. J Am Acad Dermatol 62(6):1075-1076, 2010.

Heffelfinger RN, Loftus P, Cabrera C, Pribitkin EA. Lizard bites of the head and neck. J Emerg Med 43(4):627-629, 2012.

Henton J, Jain A. Cochrane corner: antibiotic prophylaxis for mammalian bites (intervention review). J Hand Surg Eur 37(3):804-806, 2012.

Holmes NE, Korman TM. Corynebacterium kutscheri infection of the skin and soft tissue following rat bite. J Clin Microbiol. 45(10):3468-3469, 2007.

Holt D. Bite wound trauma. In: KJ Drobatz, MW Beal, RS Syring (eds). Manual of Trauma Management in the Dog and Cat. Ames, Iowa: Wiley-Blackwell; 2011. Pp. 347-354.

Hsieh S, Babl FE. Serratia marcescens cellulitis following an iguana bite. Clin Infect Dis 28(5):1181-1182, 1999.

Jaindl M, Grunauer J, Platzer P, et al. The management of bite wounds in children—a retrospective analysis at a level 1 trauma centre. Injury 43(12):2117-2121, 2012.

Lagutchik MS, Ford A. Care of the environmentally inured animal. In: Burkitt Creedon JM, Davis H (eds). Advanced Monitoring and Procedures for Small Animal Emergency and Critical Care. Ames, Iowa: Wiley-Blackwell; 2012. Pp. 808-810, 812-813.

Lindner DL, Marretta SM, Pijanowski GJ, et al. Measurement of bite force in dogs: a pilot study. J Vet Dent 12(2):49-52, 1995.

Liss D. Wounds. In: CL Norkus (ed). Veterinary Technician’s Manual for Small Animal Emergency and Critical Care. Ames, Iowa: Wiley-Blackwell; 2012. P. 309.

Lozier S, Pope E, Berg J. Effects of four preparations of 0.05% chlorhexidine diacetate on wound healing in dogs. Vet Surg 21(2):107-112, 1992.

Lumeij JT, Westerhof I. Acute septicaemic Pasteurella multocida infection in an African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus timneh) after a bite from a pet rat (Rattus norvegicus).

Luzzi GA, Milne IM, Waitkins SA. Rat-bite acquired leptospirosis. J Infect 15(1):57-60, 1987.

Macintire DK, Drobataz KJ, Haskins SC, Saxon WD. Bite wound abscess. Manual of Small Animal Emergency and Critical Care Medicine. Ames, Iowa: Blackwell Publishing; 2006. Pp. 375-376.

Madsen IR, Justeen US. Bacteremia with Bacteroides pyogenes after a cat bite. J Clin Microbiol 49(8):3092-3093, 2011.

Ordog GJ, Balsubramamium S, Wasserberger J. Rat bites: fifty cases. Ann Emerg Med 14(2):126-130, 1985.

Quesenberry K. Disorders of the musculoskeletal system. In: R Altman, SL Clubb, GM Dorrestein, K Quesenberry (eds). Avian Medicine and Surgery. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders; 1997. P. 524.

Rigss SM, Tully TN. Wound management in nonpsittacine birds. Vet Clin North Am Exot Anim Pract 7(1):19-26, 2004.

Tehrani HR, Tejero-Trujeque, Dhital SK. Septic arthritis due to a Savannah monitor lizard bite: a case report. J Hand Surg Eur 33(6):810-, 2008.

Wade L. Dog and cat bites in birds: why Baytril® is not enough. Assoc Avian Vet Newsletter Clin Forum Sep-Nov 2002.

Yaqub S, Bjørnholt JV, Hellum KB, et al. Antibiotic prophylaxis after a swan bite. Lancet 350(9074):340, 1997 [abstract only].

To cite this page:

Pollock C. Presenting problem: Bite wounds. October 26, 2012. LafeberVet Web site. Available at