Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Hand FAQ


My sister and I are having an argument we need help solving. She says cat bites are much worse than dog bites. I think dogs can rip and tear someone's skin with those canines more than cats with their sharp but tiny teeth. We've got a banana split riding on this one.


According to experts at the Division of Hand and Microvascular Surgery, Division of Infectious Diseases, and Department of Internal Medicine at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, California, infections that develop from bites can be very serious. You might be surprised to find that human bites top the list for dangerous wounds. Human bite wounds can be infected with one or more of 40 bacterial strains. Many of these bacteria are on the skin surface and don't represent much of a problem. But an open wound from a bite leaves an entrance for the bacteria to move in. And the bite itself can drive bacteria into the finger, hand, or other body part. Common complications with human bite wounds include skin and soft tissue infection, bone fractures, and bone infection (called osteomyelitis). Animal bites from cats and dogs can cause significant problems, too. Infection is much more common after cat bites. But as you suggest, dogs are able to chomp down and pull, thus tearing skin, soft tissues, tendons, and even muscles. Cat teeth are more like thin, sharp needles. The skin breaks are small and heal quickly but that allows bacteria to get trapped inside the skin. The bacteria move into deeper tissues and can cause some serious delayed infections. As the old saying goes, Dogs rule. Cats drool. Avoid bites from either species! Lucas S. McDonald, MD, MPH, et al. Hand Infections. In The Journal of Hand Surgery. August 2011. Vol. 36A. No. 8. Pp. 1403-1412.

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