Family Health Guide

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First Aid: Bites and Stings (animal, insect, human)


Most household pets don't bite savagely enough to cause a serious injury. However, because cat bites often cause an infection, you'll need to call the doctor if your child gets one. Otherwise, here's how to care for minor kitty scratches and dog nips:

  • Wash the wound gently with soap and water.
  • Apply pressure with a clean towel or gauze to the injured area to stop any bleeding.
  • Apply antibiotic ointment, such as bacitracin, to the area twice a day until it heals.
  • Apply a sterile bandage to the wound.
  • Keep the injury elevated above the level of the heart (if possible) for a few minutes to slow swelling.
  • Report the incident to the proper authority in your community (for example, the animal control office or the police).


When to call the doctor:

  • A cat bite -- however, you don't need to call your doctor for a cat scratch, unless you think it's becoming infected
  • A dog has bitten your child's hand, foot or head, or the wound is deep or gaping
  • Your child has diabetes, liver or lung disease, cancer, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) or another condition that could weaken his ability to fight infection
  • Signs of infection develop while the wound is healing, such as redness, swelling, warmth, increased tenderness, oozing of pus from the wound or a fever  
  • The bleeding doesn't stop after 15 minutes of pressure or you think he may have a broken bone or another serious injury
  • The bite was from a  stray cat or dog or a domestic animal of unknown immunization status

A word on rabies Since most dogs in the United States are vaccinated against rabies, it's not usually a big concern after a dog bite. If a dog bites your child and you are not sure if it has had a rabies shot, you should contact your pediatrician and/or your local health department or animal control. Children may need to be treated with a course of rabies shots within 48 hours of being bitten if the dog has not been vaccinated or if the dog can not be found. If the dog was found and its rabies status was unknown, a veterinarian may need to quarantine the dog for 10 days, although the rabies vaccine should usually still be given, especially if the dog bite was unprovoked. 


If your child's not allergic, you should be able to treat him yourself even if he's screaming his head off -- bee stings really, really hurt! Step one is to get that stinger out (yes, you’ll see the little bugger in there). It continues to discharge venom for a few seconds, so quick action may minimize your child's reaction. You can use tweezers, or flick it out with a butter knife, credit card or your finger nail. (Don’t pinch it as it could inject more venom) Then apply ice to reduce swelling. You can give him children's Benadryl (check with your pediatrician as to the appropriate dosage) or apply Benadryl cream or calamine lotion if he's itchy (you can also dab a little toothpaste on it, too). The worst pain is usually over in about two hours – an OTC pain reliever can help -- but some initial swelling, discomfort, and itching at the site of the sting is normal.  


Wash the bite with mild, soapy water and hold an ice cube to the bump until the swelling goes down. Anti-itch lotion, such as calamine or cortisone cream, can help reduce irritation. While West Nile virus, a disease spread by mosquitoes, is pretty rare, you should call the doctor if your child gets a fever or feels achy soon after being bitten.

Fire Ants

 Wash with mild soap and water, and then apply a topical antihistamine lotion, such as Benadryl, or ice to soothe the skin. An allergic reaction to this type of bite is a possibility for some; treat as you would for a reaction to a bee sting.


Wash the affected area with cool water, and then apply ice to ease swelling. Use calamine lotion until the irritation subsides. Wash all affected clothes and linens to get rid of any lingering bugs and vacuum very thoroughly.


With a pair of fine-tipped, clean tweezers, grasp the tick firmly by the head, close to your child’s skin, and pull its body away from the skin with a steady motion. (Don't squeeze the belly; you may release bacteria.) Once the tick is out, wash the area with soap and water. Lyme disease, a serious bacterial illness, can be spread by deer ticks, but it's rare and only a tiny percentage of ticks actually carry the bacteria. In addition, if a deer tick is removed within 36 hours of biting, the Lyme bacteria, if it's present, isn't likely to be transmitted. Still, you should keep an eye out for flulike symptoms or a red, bull's-eye-shaped mark over the next few weeks.


For common spider bites, which usually appear as a red, raised welt, wash the area with soap and water and apply ice to relieve pain and reduce swelling. While rare, for brown recluse or black widow spider bites, take your child to the emergency room immediately (these bites could be fatal, with pain developing within 2-8 hours). The bite of a brown recluse spider will cause stinging and redness and form a fluid-filled blister. A black widow spider bite will produce intense pain, abdominal pain, nausea, swelling, and a faint red mark. Apply ice to a black widow bite while traveling to the hospital.




Call the pediatrician if another kid bites yours and breaks the skin. (The human mouth is extremely dirty, containing all kinds of nasty bacteria that can cause serious infections.) If the skin around the bite marks starts to go red over time, she may decide to send you to the ER, depending on the location of the bite and how it looks. You should also wash the wound immediately and thoroughly (really scrub, even if it rebleeds!) with soap and warm water and then apply an antibiotic ointment and bandage. It's likely your child's doctor will prescribe an oral antibiotic, to be on the safe side and a tetanus shot may be necessary.

Biting your tongue

Mouth wounds bleed a lot, but they're usually not as bad as they look. Try to keep your child (and yourself) calm and do the best you can to apply pressure to stop the bleeding. Dampen a clean washcloth with cool water, seat your child on your lap, and then press it over the injured area of the tongue; ice can also be used, or even a frozen fruit pop. Call the doctor if it's still bleeding after 30 minutes of direct pressure or the bite goes all the way through. Offer your child soft foods for a day or two, and try to avoid anything acidic. Be patient, as most tongue injuries can take seven to ten days to heal. (It's rare for tongue bites to become infected, however.)