Summer brings so many wonderful things, one of the best being the increased time spent outdoors with family and friends. Sometimes these friends include our animal companions. We never want to imagine a bad outcome stemming from an interaction with a pet but it can happen. Bites are, unfortunately, a reality.

If you or someone around you is bitten by a dog or cat, the first thing to determine is if a visit to a doctor or even an emergency department is necessary. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, medical attention is warranted in these cases:

If you have a cat bite. Cat bites often cause infection. If it is just a scratch, home care is sufficient.

If the bite is on the hands, feet or head, or the bite is deep or gaping.

If you have diabetes, liver or lung disease, cancer, AIDS, or another condition that could weaken your ability to fight infection.

If you have any signs of infection in the hours or days after the bite, such as redness, swelling, warmth, increased tenderness, oozing of pus from the wound or a fever.

If you have bleeding that doesn’t stop after 15 minutes of pressure or you think there might be a broken bone, nerve damage or other serious injury.

If your last tetanus shot was more than 5 years ago. You might need a booster.

If you do not know the immunization status of the animal that bit you.

If you determine that the wound is treatable at home, follow these pointers:

Wash the wound gently with soap and water.

Apply pressure with a clean towel to the injured area to stop any bleeding.

Apply a sterile bandage to the wound.

Keep the injury elevated above the level of the heart to slow swelling and prevent infection.

Report the incident to the proper authority in your community (for example, the animal control officer or police).

Apply antibiotic ointment to the area twice a day until it heals.

And finally, a few thoughts about how to prevent a dog or cat bite in the first place:

Never leave a young child alone with a pet.

Do not try to separate fighting animals.

Avoid sick animals and animals you do not know.

Leave animals alone while they are eating.

Keep pets on a leash when in public.

Never approach an unfamiliar dog, even one on a leash, without asking permission from the owner first.

Pets are a joy, but they are still animals. Animals can be unpredictable. Enjoy the beautiful weather with your pet, but keep your, your pet’s and other people’s safety in mind.

Pam Maxson is a health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville. If you have questions or suggestions for future articles, she can be reached at