Prevent bites and scratches

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Preventing injuries from pets can help you both stay safe

Boy playing catch with dog

Any pet can bite or scratch – even the most gentle, trusted pets. Pets can bite or scratch when they’re scared, sick, defending food or toys, or startled – accidents happen! Scratches and bites from pets can cause injury and they can spread germs that lead to infection, even if the wound doesn’t seem serious. Children are the most common victims of pet scratches and bites, especially from dogs.

Use the tips below to learn how to keep everyone safe.

Be a responsible pet owner

Understanding your pet and researching the best ways to care for them can help keep you both safe. For example:

  • Give your pet proper veterinary care, attention, and plenty of food, water, exercise, and training if needed.
  • Know the right way to hold small pets like hamsters and rabbits without scaring or hurting them.
  • Socialize dogs to help them safely interact with people and other animals, and keep them on leash when in public.
  • Handle pets often so they become used to being held.
  • Feed snakes with tongs to reduce the risk of bites.

Ways to prevent pet bites and scratches

  • Don’t approach unfamiliar animals, no matter how friendly they look.
  • If an animal is with its owner, ask before touching it.
  • Pay attention to body language and look for cues that a pet is scared, hurt, or defensive before handling them.
  • Don’t play rough with pets or encourage play biting.
  • Don’t disturb animals when they are eating, sleeping, or caring for babies.
  • Don’t kiss or hold small animals near your face (like reptiles and small mammals).
  • Make sure an animal can see you before you touch it or pick it up. Surprised animals can bite out of fear.
  • Always supervise children when they are around animals, and teach kids how to properly interact with animals.

What to do if a pet scratches or bites

Kid holding a cute grey hamster, children and pets.

If you’re bitten or scratched by an animal:

  • Wash wounds with warm, soapy water right away.
  • For minor wounds, cover with a clean bandage.
  • For deeper wounds, apply pressure until bleeding stops. Get medical care if you have a serious, deep wound or a wound that won’t stop bleeding or becomes red, painful, warm, or swollen.
  • Get medical care if you don’t know whether the animal is vaccinated against rabies or if it’s been more than 5 years since your last tetanus shot.