Skip to main content

When to Take Your Child to the ER for Bites

When to Take Your Child to the ER for Bites 

When an animal or insect bites your child, it can be a scary experience. While many bites are minor and can be treated at home, it is important to know when you should seek emergency care. 

Depending on what type of animal or insect bit your child, and where the bite occurred, emergency treatment may be necessary. 

Bites from Dogs, Cats, Pets, Wildlife and Other Children

Children are bitten by dogs, cats and other pets much more commonly than adults.

Young children are also the most at risk of bites from other children. If your child is bitten, you may need to seek emergency care in the following situations: 

  • Bites in the hand, face or joints: If your child is bitten in the face, hands or joint tissue, they may be at risk of underlying damage and infection.

  • Rabies or tetanus risk: If your child is bitten by a wild or feral (a domestic animal that has gone wild) animal, or by livestock, he or she may be at risk of rabies or tetanus. Follow-up shots may be necessary.

  • Viral transmission risk: If a bite from another child breaks the skin, viruses can be transmitted. You should always have a human bite checked by a pediatrician.

  • Cat bites/scratches: A bite or scratch from a cat can easily become infected, particularly if it happens near a joint or on the hand. Your child will typically need to take antibiotics following a cat bite.

  • Dog bites: A bite from a dog also can become infected and may require antibiotics if the bite has broken the skin.  

Bites from Snakes, Spiders and Insects

In most cases, insect bites and stings are a painful nuisance that will respond to home care. However, some snakes, spiders and insects can be very poisonous. For that reason, it is important to keep an eye out for these signs that it may be time to seek emergency care for your child. 

  • Snake bite: Seek emergency treatment unless you know for sure that the snake is not poisonous. Take note of the snake’s appearance if possible and be prepared to describe it to the emergency staff.

  • Spider bite: A large population of black widow spiders resides in the Denver metro area. If you notice that your child displays any of these signs after a spider bite, seek emergency care:
    • Severe pain at the bite location or anywhere else in the body
    • Redness and warmth surrounding the bite
    • Severe cramping
    • Drainage from the bite
    • Vomiting

  • Bee or wasp stings: If your child develops a large rash or swelling around the sting area, or if pain or swelling lasts a few days, call your pediatrician. These symptoms may indicate an infection. If your child shows these signs of a severe allergic reaction, immediately seek emergency care:
    • Difficulty breathing or tightness in the throat
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Dizziness or fainting
    • Swelling in the face