Animal and Human Bites: When Stitches Are Needed - Topic Overview
A bite injury may need to be closed by a health
professional, may require antibiotic medicines, or both. The decision to
close a wound with stitches, staples, or skin adhesive depends on:
The type of biting animal.
and location of the bite.
The time that has passed since the bite
The general health of the person bitten.
It is important to determine if your wound needs to be closed
by a health professional. Your risk of infection increases the longer the wound
remains untreated. Most wounds that require treatment should be stitched,
stapled, or closed with
skin adhesives (also called liquid stitches) within 6 to 8 hours after the
injury. Some wounds that require treatment can be closed as long as 24 hours
after the injury. If stitches may be needed, avoid using an antiseptic or
antibiotic ointment until after a health professional has examined the
Most dog bites can be
stitched, especially if the wound is large.
cat bites are not stitched. Cat bites are usually
puncture wounds and can be quite deep. Cat bites have a higher risk of
infection than dog bites.
Human bites are
not usually stitched unless they are on the face or ear. Human bites have a
high risk of infection.
Most facial bites
can be safely stitched. The risk of infection to the face is lower because the
face normally has good blood flow. Because of good blood flow, a face wound may
heal faster if it is stitched as soon as possible after a
Bites to the hand or foot, whether
from an animal or a human, are generally not stitched. These bites carry a high
risk of infection, and stitching the wound further increases the likelihood of
infection. In some situations, a dog bite to the hand may be stitched.
Treatment by a health professional is more likely to be needed for:
Bites that are more than
0.25 in. (6.5 mm) deep, that
have jagged edges, or that gape open.
Deep bites that go down to
the fat, muscle, bone, or other deep structures.
Deep bites over a
joint, especially if the bite opens when the joint is moved or if pulling apart
the edges of the bite reveals fat, muscle, bone, or joint
Deep bites on the hand or fingers.
the face, lips, or any area where scarring may be a concern (for cosmetic
reasons). Bites on the eyelids often need sutures for both functional and
Bites longer than
0.75 in. (20 mm) that are
deeper than 0.25 in. (6.5 mm)
when the edges are pulled apart.
Bites that continue to bleed after
15 minutes of direct pressure.
Bites such as these should be evaluated by a health
professional, but they may not always need stitching.
Treatment by a health professional may not be needed for:
Bites with smooth edges that tend to stay
together during normal movement of the affected body part.
bites less than
0.25 in. (6.5 mm) deep and less
than 0.75 in. (20 mm)
Bites that are small puncture wounds, such as cat
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
June 10, 2010
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor.
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