Information for Travellers
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About avoiding animal and dog bites
Animal bites can make you very poorly indeed, and it’s about much more than rabies. Dogs, cats, wild animals… their bites can all cause infections, sometime serious. Your best bet is to avoid being bitten in the first place. Here’s some sensible advice, followed by insight into what to do if you actually get bitten.
Domestic mammals are often relatively easy to ‘read’, especially dogs and cats. If you have any experience of owning either type of creature you’ll be able to tell when they’re in an approachable mood and when it’s best to leave them alone. But when you’re abroad the best policy is to steer completely clear of dogs and cats. Better safe than sorry!
How to stay safe from dog and cat bites
- It’s safest to assume that any animal you don’t know could pose a threat
- Respect the animal’s personal space
- Never approach an unfamiliar dog or cat
- Never stroke a dog or cat you don’t know before checking whether it will object – let it look at, explore and sniff you first
- Never disturb a sleeping dog or cat dog
- The same goes for animals which are busy eating, looking after their young or playing. Let them be
- Keep your distance, putting space between you and the animal so they don’t feel crowded
- Study the animal’s body language. Dogs and cats who want to be left alone tend to have a tense body, pulled back head and pulled back or flattened ears. An intense stare is almost always a sign to stay away, as is an animal who backs away from you
- Never turn your back on an aggressive dog. They’ll instinctively chase you
- Resist the impulse to scream or run away. Stay still and avoid eye contact instead. Once the dog loses interest, calmly back off
What to do if a dog attacks you?
‘Feed’ the dog your coat, purse, bag, anything that’ll distract them from your skin. If you get knocked down, curl up in a foetal position to protect your head and face, with your hands over your ears, and try to stay calm and still.
What to do if a cat attacks you?
It’s fairly unlikely you’ll be attacked by a domestic cat. And an angry cat is unmistakeable – mit’s easy to tell when they’re furious or threatened. But if a cat attacks you, it’s best not to struggle. Stay still, remain calm and wait for it to calm down, retract their claws and let go. You’ll probably come off a lot worse if you try to fight it, even though cats are only little.
What to do if you’re bitten by a dog?
Simple. First, wash the wound immediately and thoroughly with warm water and soap, then get yourself to a doctor. If there’s any risk at all of coming across a rabid animal abroad, it makes a lot of sense to get a rabies jab before you go. But dog bites can carry more than rabies. Because bite wound infections are polymicrobial – ie. they carry a lot of different microbes, they can also result in infections from:
- Pasteurella multocida
- Pasteurella canis
- Capnocytophaga canimorsus
If you get bitten by any kind of animal, however lightly, and it starts to look angry and red or feel sore or hot, see a doctor before it develops into something worse. Again, it’s better safe than sorry.
What about cat bites?
Cat scratch disease comes from cats infected with Bartonella henselae bacteria. You can get swollen lymph nodes, a fever, headache and fatigue, and it usually goes away by itself. If the infection is severe, the doctor might give you antibiotics.
Cats can also pass on Toxoplasmosis, something a large proportion of cat owners have without realising it. It’s one of the most common parasitic diseases and is found in most mammals including humans. Luckily the resulting T. gondii infection rarely causes disease in cats or humans.
A nasty cat scratch or bite, like any wound, should be cleaned thoroughly and kept clean until it heals.
As a general rule, it’s best not to get bitten by any kind of animal, so steer clear of any living being that looks aggressive or ill, whether it’s a rabbit or squirrel, wolf, rat, bird or bat.
Oddly enough, one of the worst and most dangerous bites you can get is a human bite, often much more risky than an animal bite!
Get your rabies shots here
If you’re travelling to an at-risk area, make sure you protect yourself in good time with rabies inocculation. We can do it for you, and help with any advice or guidance you might need. Here’s a link to our rabies vaccination page.