When a dog or cat bites a person, the possibility of exposure to rabies is one of the consequences that needs to be considered. As a result, most communities have legislation that outlines the protocol for pets that bite.
What Should a Bite Victim Do?
General first aid should be administered to any bite victim. Thoroughly washing the wound is advised and should be carried out immediately. This may help stop the spread of disease, even rabies.
Depending on the severity of the wound, it may be advisable to consult a physician. Cat bites in particular are known to become infected with bacteria and antibiotics may be required.
If possible, the offending animal should be identified or captured. This may facilitate learning more about the animal’s rabies status. However, care should be taken that further injury does not occur if attempting to do this. Capture should not be undertaken if it cannot be done safely and without causing further injury.
What Happens if My Vaccinated Dog or Cat Bites Someone?
If your pet is vaccinated and bites someone, first aid (such as cleansing the wound) may be all that is required, depending on the extent of the wound.
Vaccinated pets are unlikely to infect a person with rabies if they bite. However, in some cases, vicious dog legislation or other local laws may come into effect and are completely separate issues that have nothing to do with rabies exposure.
What Happens if My Pet Bites a Person and Is Not Vaccinated Against Rabies?
This is a more difficult situation. It is likely that your unvaccinated dog or cat will need to be confined for 10-14 days. This confinement may be required to take place at an approved facility, such as your local animal control facility. Your dog or cat will likely require vaccination against rabies before being released from confinement as well.
The 10-14 day confinement is based on the fact that rabies virus particles must be present in the saliva in order for the pet to be able to transmit rabies. Once the rabies virus shows up in the saliva, it takes only 10 days or less for the virus to reach the brain and cause clinical signs. If the animal is still healthy at the end of a 10-14 day period, it can be assumed that rabies transmission did not occur.
If your pet dies or becomes ill during the confinement period, your pet will need to be tested for rabies. The only reliable test for rabies is performed post-mortem.
Any bite from an animal that breaks the skin should be reported to public health and/or animal control officials. In most areas, physicians that treat such wounds are required to report them. In many cases, veterinarians also are required to report known bite exposures.
The procedures outlined here are general guidelines. Protocols governing how human bites are handled may vary from one location to another. Local laws should be consulted and followed.