10 Reasons Not to Go to the ER

Animal Bites
If your animal bite stops bleeding and you know the animal who bit you has had all its shots, you’re probably safe to treat it yourself. But if it doesn’t heal and shows signs of infection, call the doctor — though you probably won’t need an ER trip. © simazoran/iStockphoto

For various reasons, from perceiving you or your actions as a threat to food aggression and attention issues, dogs are responsible for 90 percent of our bite wounds. It's estimated that Americans suffer 4.5 million dog bites annually, and about 888,000 of that number visit an emergency department for evaluation and treatment [source: Garth et al.]. Cats account for most of the remainder of bite incidents, but other critters such as rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, and sometimes bats or other wild animals bite us. Most animal bites treated in the ER are dog or cat injuries, but it turns out that many bites don't actually need emergency treatment [source: Wedro].

Most injuries happen at home, many are minor — and it's suspected many are also unreported. A bite wound is considered minor if the injury is small, superficial, stops bleeding on its own with 10 to 15 minutes of pressure on the area, and is from an animal with a low rabies risk (such as a family dog). Minor wounds should be cleaned with soap and water and bandaged.

Dogs tend to crush when they bite, whereas cats tend to puncture. If an animal's bite breaks, punctures or tears the skin, clean the wound and call a doctor. Animal mouths aren't clean. There are more than 60 species of bacteria known to be found in a dog's mouth, for instance, and any wound that isn't healing or is developing signs of an infection should be evaluated by a medical professional [source: Garth et al.]. Large wounds, wounds with extensive tearing, deep puncture wounds or wounds that won't stop bleeding should be treated immediately.