Animal Bites/Exposures

Animal Bites/Exposures

Updated February 24, 2023

Report animal bites/exposures with the Animal Bite Reporting Form (Online or Printable PDF).

Any animal can bite or scratch – even the most gentle, trusted animals. Animals can bite or scratch when they're scared, sick, defending food or toys, or startled – accidents happen! Scratches and bites from animals can cause injury and they can spread germs that lead to infection, even if the wound doesn't seem serious. 

Animal bites and scratches can also spread rabies. Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the nervous system and brain. If a person does not receive the appropriate medical care after a potential exposure to rabies, the virus can infect the brain and result in death. In Michigan, rabies most commonly occurs in bats. Other common sources of rabies in the U.S. include wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, and foxes.

While most animals that bite will not have rabies, proper precautions and follow-up can limit severe outcomes. Livingston County Health Department (LCHD) investigates bites, scratches, and rabies exposures to ensure that this fatal disease does not spread.

Did you know? Bats are the most common source of rabies in Michigan. Read below to learn what to do if you find a bat in your home.

 Animal Bite/Exposure FAQs

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How can I prevent bites and scratches? ,

Be a responsible animal owner:

Understanding your animal and researching the best ways to care for them can help keep you both safe. For example:

  • Give your animal proper veterinary care, attention, and plenty of food, water, exercise, and training if needed.
  • Keep vaccinations up-to-date for all dogs, cats, ferrets, horses, cattle, and sheep. Michigan law requires that dogs and ferrets must be vaccinated for rabies and it is recommended that all cats and any domestic livestock in contact with the public be vaccinated if a licensed vaccine exists.
  • Know the right way to hold small animals like hamsters and rabbits without scaring or hurting them.
  • Socialize dogs to help them safely interact with people and other animals, and keep them on leash when in public.
  • Handle animals often so they become used to being held.
  • Feed snakes with tongs to reduce the risk of bites.

Ways to prevent animal bites and scratches:

  • Don't approach unfamiliar animals, no matter how friendly they look.
  • If an animal is with its owner, ask before touching it.
  • Pay attention to body language and look for cues that a pet is scared, hurt, or defensive before handling them.
  • Don't play rough with pets or encourage play biting.
  • Don't disturb animals when they are eating, sleeping, or caring for babies.
  • Don't kiss or hold small animals near your face (like reptiles and small mammals).
  • Make sure an animal can see you before you touch it or pick it up. Surprised animals can bite out of fear.
  • Always supervise children when they are around animals, and teach kids how to properly interact with animals.
  • Do not feed wild animals. If you store food, pet food, or garbage outside, keep it in a sturdy container with a tight fitting lid.
  • Install a chimney cap to prevent bats, raccoons and other animals from entering your home.
  • Seal openings around your home such as attics, crawl spaces, or areas under your porch or deck, to prevent animals from living there.
  • In Michigan, rabies most commonly occurs in bats, therefore, prevent bats from entering living quarters or occupied spaces in homes, churches, schools, or other similar settings where they might come in contact with people and pets.
What should I do if I am bitten or scratched by an animal?, If you're bitten or scratched by an animal:
  • Wash wounds with warm, soapy water right away.
  • For minor wounds, cover with a clean bandage.
  • For deeper wounds, apply pressure until bleeding stops. Get medical care if you have a serious, deep wound or a wound that won't stop bleeding or becomes red, painful, warm, or swollen.
  • Get medical care if you don't know whether the animal is vaccinated against rabies or if it's been more than 5 years since your last tetanus shot.
  • Report animal bites/exposures to LCHD using our Animal Bite Reporting Form (Printable PDF or Online/Electronic).
What should I do if I find a bat in my home?,

​In Michigan, bats are the animal most often found to be rabid. People usually know when they have been bitten by a bat. However, bats have small teeth that may not leave marks that are easy to see. There are conditions in which a person could be bitten by a bat and not know it or be able to report it.

If you are bitten by a bat , OR if you find a bat in a room with:

  • a sleeping person;
  • an unattended child;
  • a mentally impaired person;
  • an intoxicated person;

do not let the bat go. You should save the bat for rabies testing and seek medical attention immediately. Take care to capture the bat safely — wear leather gloves and when the bat lands, approach it slowly. Place a box or coffee can over the bat. Punch holes in a piece of cardboard to allow the bat to breathe, and slide it under the container to trap the bat inside. Tape the cardboard securely to the container. Contact LCHD to arrange for rabies testing using our Animal Bite Reporting Form (Printable PDF or Online/Electronic).

What is rabies?,

​Rabies is a viral disease of mammals that attacks the nervous system and brain, leading to death. In the U.S., it is most commonly found in bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. Unvaccinated pets or livestock can also be infected.

People can be infected when they are bitten by an animal with rabies. If not treated, illness begins weeks to months later. Early symptoms may include fever, weakness, headache and body aches. Illness rapidly worsens with sleeplessness, confusion, and agitation. The muscles in the throat can be affected, making swallowing difficult. At this point, death usually occurs within days.

Rabies can be prevented in people by prompt treatment following exposure to the virus.

How can I tell if an animal has rabies?,

​It is not always possible to determine that an animal is infected with rabies by simple observation. That is why it is important to report all animal bites/exposures to LCHD.

Signs in an animal which should lead you to suspect that it may be rabid are:

  • Nervousness
  • Aggressiveness
  • Excessive drooling and foaming at the mouth
  • Abnormal behavior such as:
    • wild animals losing their fear of human beings
    • animals normally active at night being seen during the day

Remember, rabid animals may not look or act sick. Report animal bites/exposures to LCHD using our Animal Bite Reporting Form (Printable PDF or Online/Electronic).