Animal Bites

The Philadelphia Division of Disease Control (DDC) tracks and manages animal bite information and provides medical recommendations and information to city residents who have experienced an animal bite. The following information below is sourced directly from the DDC. The DDC tracks all animal bite incidents in Philadelphia and all bites should be reported. Please check the DDC webpage on Diseases and Conditions A-Z for the most up to date information on animal bites.

What should I do if an animal bites me?

Animals can inflict serious and even fatal injuries through their bite. An animal bite can result in a break in the skin, bruise, or puncture wound. It is important to seek prompt medical care when bitten. Even injuries that don’t seem to be that serious can hide underlying damage to tissues or may get infected with germs or the rabies virus.

In addition to seeking medical treatment, you should notify the Division of Disease Control (DDC) at 215-685-6748 to report the incident. Once notified of the incident, DDC will evaluate whether you are at risk for rabies infection and whether you need to receive postexposure prophylaxis (PEP). Please refer to the rabies information section on the DDC page Diseases and Conditions A-Z for more information on the rabies virus and protocol.

One of the best ways to prevent infection after a bite is to wash the area thoroughly with soap and water. If the site of the animal bite is infected there is a chance that the infection can travel to other places in the body if not treated. A healthcare provider can help determine whether treatment or vaccines such as tetanus or rabies are needed to prevent infection.

Symptoms of an infection that may result after a bite include the following:

  • Fever

  • Discomfort or tenderness at the site of the bite

  • Redness or swelling at the site of the bite

  • Pus or drainage at the site of the bite

  • Improper healing time

What disease can animals give me if I am bitten?

A large majority of animal bite cases involve domesticated dogs. However, cat bites are more likely to cause infection. Animals can transmit several kinds of bacteria and viruses through their bite. These organisms are transferred from the animal’s saliva, mouth, or teeth into the victims wound once the skin is broken. For this reason it is important to thoroughly wash the area bitten or scratched and seek medical care even if you do not think the wound is serious.

Two of the more serious infections that can be transmitted through an animal bite are rabies and tetanus. The likelihood of getting one of these diseases is less if the animal is domesticated, it is up to date on its shots, and if you are up to date on your tetanus vaccination. An infection known as cat-scratch disease may also result after a cat scratch.


How can I prevent animal bites?

There are several steps you can take to prevent animal bites. It is important to make sure that your pets are up to date on their vaccinations. For animals that you may find in your household it is important to take the following precautions:

  • Evaluate what type of pet is appropriate for your household
  • Do not engage in aggressive play with domesticated animals
  • Make sure that children are supervised around animals in your household
  • You may want to train animals to be around other people
  • Do not startle or disturb sleeping or eating animals
  • If approached by an aggressive dog, don’t scream and/or run, try to remain motionless and avoid eye contact.

The following precautions will help prevent animal bites from stray or wild animals:

  • You should not try to approach, pet, or capture stray or wild animals.
  • If you see a stray dog you should contact the Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Team so they can come out and attempt to catch the dog.
  • If you see sick, injured or aggressive wildlife you should contact the Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Team. Animal Control Officers will attempt to catch or trap the animal. Your assistance may be required to safely trap an animal, such as allowing a trap to be left on your property.
  • Make sure to seal cracks and gaps in your home so that bats cannot enter. If bats are entering your home through gaps and cracks you should contact a licensed wildlife pest control company. They will repair the gaps and cracks, preventing bats from gaining entry. If you observe a bat in your home you should contact the Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Team so they can come out and attempt to remove the bat.