Animal Bites

California State Law requires that all animal bites be reported to health care personnel or public animal shelters.

Do not take animal bites lightly

Animal bites and scratches—even when minor—can become infected and spread bacteria to other parts of the body. Whether the bite is from a family pet or an animal in the wild, scratches and bites can carry disease. Certain animals can transmit rabies and tetanus to other animals and humans. Bites that break the skin are more likely to become infected. Seek the advice of a physician or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about an animal bite.

What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral infection affecting certain warm-blooded animals and is caused by a virus in the Rhabdoviridae family. It attacks the nervous system and, once symptoms develop, it is 100 percent fatal in animals if left untreated. In Sutter County, rabies primarily occurs in bats and skunks, but it has the potential to infect coyotes, raccoons, and foxes. In some instances these wild animals can infect domestic cats, dogs, and livestock. In the United States, cats are more likely than dogs to be rabid. According to a report by the California Department of Health Services, 24 bats, 31 skunks and one dog were reported as rabid between 1993 and 2002 in Sutter County. Generally, rabies is rare in small rodents such as beavers, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, rats, mice, or hamsters.

How does rabies occur?

The rabies virus enters the body through a cut or scratch, or through mucous membranes such as the lining of the mouth and eyes, and travels to the central nervous system. Once the infection is established in the brain, the virus travels down the nerves and multiplies in different organs. The salivary glands and organs are most important in the spread of rabies from one animal to another. When an infected animal bites another animal, the rabies virus is transmitted through the infected animal's saliva. Claw scratches by rabid animals are also dangerous because these animals lick their claws.

How can animal bites and rabies be prevented?

Being safe around animals—including your own pets—can help reduce the risk of animal bites. Some general guidelines for avoiding animal bites and rabies include the following:

  • Do not try to separate fighting animals.
  • Avoid strange-acting and sick animals.
  • Leave animals alone when they are eating.
  • Keep pets on a leash when out in public.
  • Select family pets carefully.
  • Never leave a young child alone with a pet.
  • All domestic dogs and cats should be immunized against rabies and shots should be kept current.
  • Do not approach or play with wild animals of any kind, and be aware that domestic animals may also be infected with rabies.
  • Supervise pets so they do not come into contact with wild animals.
  • Call Sutter Animal Services Authority to remove any stray animals at (530) 822-7375.

Reporting an incident to your healthcare provider

If you or someone you know is bitten by an animal, remember these facts to report to your healthcare provider:

  • Location of the accident
  • Type of animal involved (domestic pet or wild animal)
  • Type of exposure (cut, scratch, licking of open wound)
  • Part of the body involved
  • Number of exposures
  • Whether the animal has been immunized against rabies
  • Whether the animal seems healthy or sick, and if sick, what symptoms were present
  • Whether the animal is available for testing or quarantine

Web Links

California Department of Health Services - Infectious Disease Branch
Additional information about rabies on a statewide level can be found at the CDHS Infectious Disease Branch.

Center for Disease Control - Rabies information
Rabies information from the Center for Disease Control

California Department of Health Services - Rabies fact sheet
Rabies fact sheet from the CDHS