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Animal Bites

Injuries caused by animal bites and scratches are a common problem worldwide. The greatest number of injuries are caused by dogs, cats, monkeys and snakes.

Animals have many different types of germs in their mouths which can cause serious wound infections or infections such as tetanus or rabies, if they bite you.

If you are bitten by an animal whilst abroad, it is important to carry out first aid and seek medical advice as soon as possible.

  • see the NHS inform website for information on what to do if you are bitten by an animal in the UK

You, and all those who are travelling with you, need to be aware of:

Risks of being bitten or scratched by an animal during travel

What type of animal’s bite travellers?

Many different types of animals, including bats, can bite humans. But dog bites are most common in travellers, followed by cat bites and monkey bites.

Why do animals bite?

Animals are most likely to bite when they feel threatened, or if they are disturbed whilst they are eating, sleeping or caring for their young.

Which countries am I most at risk of being bitten by an animal?

Animal-associated injuries during travel can occur in any country in the world, but are most common in tourists travelling to Asia, particularly Thailand, Indonesia and Nepal. You should also make sure you know if rabies is a risk in the country you are travelling to, as it can occur following an injury from an animal.

Who is at greatest risk?

Anyone is at risk of being attacked by an animal whilst travelling, particularly if you will be doing work or activities involving animals.

Children are at greatest risk of being injured as they are often unaware of the dangers and are more likely to approach strange animals.

  • you should check children for wounds, and encourage them to tell you if they are bitten, licked or scratched by an animal

What types of injuries can animals cause?

Animals can cause many types of injury and illness, for example:

  • damage to the skin: scratches, puncture wounds, cuts, or even loss of limbs
  • damage to the bones: breaks and crush injuries
  • wound infections: usually caused by the germs found in the animals mouth
  • serious infections such as rabies or tetanus

How to prevent animal bites

You, and all those who are travelling with you, need to be aware of the potential risks and consequences of animal bites and scratches during travel, and how to prevent animal bites from occurring.

Try to:

  • stay a sensible distance from animals to avoid being bitten or scratched, especially dogs, monkeys and cats:
    • this is particularly important with young children who are less likely to understand the risk of animal contact, less able to defend themselves from an animal attack and may not tell you if they have been bitten, licked or scratched
  • be aware of the risk of rabies in some countries, and the steps you need to take in the event of a possible exposure to rabies.
    • you may wish to consider a course of rabies vaccinations before you travel if you think you may be at high risk
  • be aware that some activities such as cycling, running or cave exploring might increase your risk of exposure to animals, particularly bats, or being attacked by a dog
  • avoid handling or feeding monkeys, and be careful when carrying shopping bags or eating food near monkeys, as this can trigger an attack
  • consider carrying a first aid kit, and be aware how to carry out basic first aid
  • seek medical attention following any animal bite to assess any wounds and check if you may need any medicines or treatment

What to do if you are bitten or scratched by an animal

Immediately carry out basic first aid after any animal bite or scratch, and urgently seek medical assessment and advice.

First aid:

  • wounds and surrounding skin should be washed thoroughly with soap and water and then flushed under a running tap for several minutes
    • this helps to flush away any germs from the animal’s mouth or claws
  • encourage the wound to bleed by gently pinching it, unless the wound is bleeding freely
  • remove any objects from the wound such as teeth, hair or dirt
  • skin should be washed even if the skin does not appear to be broken, to remove animal saliva
  • an antiseptic, such as iodine solution or alcohol, should be applied
  • the wound should be covered with a clean dry dressing, pad or cloth
  • if the wound is bleeding heavily, pressure can be applied over the dressing
  • simple painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can be taken if required for pain

You should seek medical attention following any animal bite, especially if .

  • the wound, or surrounding skin becomes red, swollen, hot or painful to touch
  • you notice any blistering, numbness or tingling around the site of the wound
  • you develop a high temperature (fever), or any other ‘flu-like’ symptoms

A doctor or nurse will:

Bat Bites

Bat bites are often felt but not seen. They usually don’t bleed or even leave a mark. Bats can carry a number of different infections, including rabies.

If you find a bat in your room, or think you have been bitten by a bat in any country, you must:

  • immediately wash any bites or scratches with soap and running water
  • seek urgent medical advice, as you may need specialist treatment to stop you getting rabies
  • avoid touching the bat(s) (alive or dead) with your bare hands
  • wear thick gloves if you have no option but to touch a bat, for example if your pet catches one:
    • always see a vet if your pet becomes unwell or behaves unusually after contact with a bat

You can find additional information on what to do in the UK if you come into contact with a bat (in the UK or abroad) in the Public Health Scotland Bat Contact and Rabies Risk (PDF) leaflet.


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