There are approximately 4.5 million dog bites in the United States each year leading to 885,000 emergency room visits according to the World Health Organization. Cat bites come in a distant second with approximately 400,000 bites annually leading to 66,000 emergency room visits. There are also about 7,000 venomous snake bites in the United States each year.
Most dog bites occur in the home from domesticated pet dogs. Dogs can misinterpret human behavior and children can inadvertantly provoke an otherwise docile dog to bite. Consequently, children aged 5-9 are the most commonly bitten group. Bites to the hand are also common as owners may attempt to breakup fights between dogs within the household. Interfering with an animal while it is eating is never a good idea and can provoke bites. Stray dogs or dogs without clear ownership are more problematic because the rabies immunization status of the animal is likely unknown. Dogs bites may inflict crush injuries and often cause lacerations. These wounds may require surgical repair and prophylactic treatment with antibiotics to prevent infection.
Although cat bites are far less common that dog bites, they can cause serious problems. Cats have very sharp long teeth that more often create puncture wounds rather than the open wound inflicted by dogs. Consequently, bacteria tends to get injected deeply into small wounds that don’t appear as serious as dog bites but cause serious infections. Bites to the hand that puncture the skin are considered to be high risk and should be treated with antibiotics. Cats have a high burden of bacteria in their mouths including Pasteurella multocida which is pathogenic to humans. Cat bites can rapidly progress to infection and bites to the hand often lead to surgical treatment if they are neglected for only a day or two.
Fortunately most snakes are not venomous but about 7,000 snake bites in the United States are from venomous snakes. About half of these bites are “dry” bites meaning no venom is injected into the wound. There are a lot of myths regarding how to treat snake bites. You shouldn’t try to cut or suck out the poison or apply tourniquets. The best treatment for snake bites is to get the the nearest emergency room for further evaluation and treatment.