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Soft tissue infections due to dog and cat bites

Larry M Baddour, MD, FIDSA
Section Editor
Daniel J Sexton, MD
Deputy Editor
Elinor L Baron, MD, DTMH


Issues related to soft tissue infections resulting from dog and cat bites will be reviewed here. Cat scratch disease, soft tissue infections due to human bites, and bites in children are discussed separately. (See "Microbiology, epidemiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis of cat scratch disease" and "Soft tissue infections due to human bites" and "Initial management of animal and human bites".)


In North America, animal bites account for about 1 percent of emergency department visits and 10,000 inpatient admissions annually; approximately 1 in every 775 persons seeks emergency care for dog bites each year [1-3]. In a study of 769 dog bite victims evaluated over a two-year period in a community hospital emergency department, wound infection was evident in 2.5 percent of cases upon presentation, and wound infections were diagnosed in 2.1 percent of cases at follow-up [4]. In one large retrospective pediatric series that included 1592 patients who presented with human and nonhuman bites, the infection rates for dog and cat bites were 14.6 and 37.1 percent, respectively [5]. Similarly, others report infection in up to one-fifth of animal bites [6,7].

Men are bitten more often by dogs than women, while women are bitten more often by cats than men [8,9]. Animal bites are more common among children than adults. (See "Initial management of animal and human bites".)

The frequency of dog bite injuries varies with breed. German shepherd and mixed breeds account for many dog bites, while sporting dogs are less commonly implicated [1]. The pit bull breed of the Staffordshire terrier has been associated with the majority of dog bite–related deaths in the United States; death usually results from exsanguination due to the number and severity of bites.


The predominant pathogens in animal bite wounds are the oral flora of the biting animal and human skin flora [10,11]. About 85 percent of bites harbor potential pathogens, and the average wound yields five types of bacterial isolates; 60 percent have mixed aerobic and anaerobic bacteria [10]. Skin flora such as staphylococci and streptococci are isolated in about 40 percent of bites. (See "Zoonoses from dogs" and "Zoonoses from cats".)


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Oct 6, 2015.
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