Pet bites: What to do if it happens to you

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Would you believe one in a hundred Emergency Room visits is because of a dog or cat bite?  Wounds and cuts to the skin in general are among the top reasons people head to the hospital.

Dawn Bothun loves her pets; Binks the cat and a four-pound Pomeranian named Cooper, who seem pretty fond of each other, because Binks tries to play bodyguard anytime visiting dogs get too rough with Cooper. 

"The other dog was just on top of him playing with him and he was squeaking so the cat got worried for the dog." said Bothun. "I had my hand down there and the cat just struck."

The resulting wound looked like a vampire bite. 

She says, although it really hurt, she thought, "Oh well. It'll heal. No big deal."

One week later the redness and swelling finally concerned her enough to see a doctor, who immediately sent her to the Emergency Department. What followed was a hospital stay, IV Antibiotics and a very close call.

"I had 7 surgeries during the following two weeks while I was in the hospital," Bothun explained.

""It was scary. I cried every night before surgery," she added. ""I had it in my head  I was going to wake up and come out of surgery with no arm."

"The cat bite is the worst," said  Dr. Annie Sadosty, the Chair of Mayo Clinic's Department of Emergency Medicine.

"Cat bites do confer a higher risk of infection for sure," said Sadosty. "By virtue of the puncture, the bacteria get closed in and it's hard to wash out.  No matter what we do."

That's why Sadosty says we should always seek care for animal bites. Wounds to hands and joints, or those with significant bleeding, numbness or loss of function also need attention.

For small cuts Sadosty says we can simply rinse them well with tap water and apply a triple antibiotic ointment. Antiseptics like alcohol or hydrogen peroxide are not recommended.

"Some of those are extremely painful on an open wound and you can actually damage some of the tissue through that," she explained.

If, after your best efforts, a skin injury shows increasing redness, swelling or oozing, see a doctor.

"But in general, the message is sooner rather than later," she warned.

In case of a pet bite, Sadosty says to make sure the animal's rabies shots, and the person's tetanus shots are up to date.  Interestingly, the doctor says, because of all the bacteria in our mouths, human bites can also be quite dangerous

For more information, go to or you can call the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville at (904) 953-2272

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