Harvard Health Letter

By the way, doctor: Should I have seen a doctor sooner for a dog bite?

Q. Recently, my dog bit me on the hand. When I showed up at my doctor's office several days later, he told me I had waited too long. Should I have gone to the doctor sooner?

A. A pet would bite the hand that feeds it? It happens every day, and, unfortunately, even beloved cats and dogs carry bacteria in their mouths. When an animal's teeth penetrate the skin, the teeth can carry those bacteria beneath the surface, and a more serious infection may occur if the bite is near a tendon, bone, or joint.

To be on the safe side, I think you should generally contact your doctor promptly — within six to eight hours — if you've been bitten on the face or hand, even if the bite seems minor. This is especially true if you've been bitten by a cat. Cats have narrow, sharp teeth so their bites can puncture the skin without leaving much of a mark. That can make it difficult to tell if it's a superficial wound or a deeper one. Dog bites tend to cause more visible wounds, so it's easier to tell the difference.

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