Animal Bites and Rabies: Understanding the Risks to Children from Dog and Animal Bites

Because of vaccination programs and effective animal control procedures, the incidence of rabies in domestic animals in North American is, thankfully, low and transmission to humans from any animal is rare. Despite this, there are a few facts about rabies every parent should know. Rabies is a viral disease of mammals that is most often transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. Infection can also occur when the saliva of an infected animal comes in contact with another animal or human’s mucous membranes or a break in the skin.

Rabies is a preventable disease and post-exposure vaccinations are available and effective. However, once the symptoms of rabies appear, no medical treatment exists and the disease is nearly invariably fatal. There are only a very few humans and fewer dogs on record who have survived rabies.

Animal Bites

Severe animal bites, obviously, always require immediate medical attention. Regardless of the severity of the bite, however, every animal bite that breaks the skin should be examined by your child’s doctor, both to ensure that there is no underlying damage and because of the risk of infection. You should seek immediate medical attention if your child is bitten by a stray or wild animal or if there is excessive bleeding or numbness in the area of the bite. If you see the animal that has bitten your child, you should note whether it appears healthy, if its behavior is strange or if it is obviously ill. Your doctor will clean and treat the bite and will make a determination if there is a need for rabies vaccination.

Animals That Do and Don’t Carry Rabies

Dogs and cats are unlikely to have rabies. However, the CDC reports that feline rabies is becoming more common and that the number of reported cases of rabies in cats is routinely three to four times that of dogs. Rodents (such as squirrels, gerbils, hamsters, rats, mice and chipmunks) very rarely contract rabies and there has never been a recorded rodent-to-human transmission in the United States. Rabies in rabbits is extremely rare, as well. Skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes and bobcats are more likely to carry rabies. The bat is the animal most likely to carry rabies and to transmit it to humans. If you discover a bat in a room with your child and even if you see no wounds, you should contact your doctor. If your child touches a dead bat, safely collect it and call your local health department and doctor.

Rabies Vaccination

If your child must receive rabies shots, you should know this no longer entails 21 to 30 shots in the stomach. Rabies treatment now includes one or two shots of immune globulin, half near the site of the wound and half elsewhere. The first vaccine will be given at the same time. Your child will probably be given a tetanus shot as well. There are four follow-up vaccinations spread over the period of one month. Side effects to these vaccines are rare.

Four Rules for Safe Interaction with Animals

None of us wants our children to grow up fearful of animals but there are some rules you should consider teaching your children:

  1. Never pet a dog or cat you don’t know.
  2. Even if you know the dog or cat, don’t tease it or provoke it.
  3. Never, ever touch a wild animal.
  4. If you find a dead animal, don’t touch it but tell your parents.


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