Different Ways Treat a Rat Bite or Scratch

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Before we get into treating a rat bite, for prevention, remember that the best thing to do is to stay safe when a rat is near you. Don't approach a wild rat—generally, they are more afraid of you than you are of them—but don't count on it. If the rat is a pet and its owner is around, instruct him or her to secure the rat. Rats will bite or scratch if frightened or handled, so leave them alone.

how to treat a rat bite
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

First Aid for Rat Bite or Scratch

There are several steps that you can and should take:

  1. If you are not the victim, practice universal precautions and wear personal protective equipment if available.
  2. Control the bleeding and clean the wound with soap and warm water. Clean inside the wound, be sure to rinse away all the soap, or it will cause irritation later.
  3. Cover the wound with a clean, dry dressing. You can put antibiotic ointment on the wound before covering.
  4. If the injury is on a finger, remove all rings from the injured finger before it swells.
  5. Care should always be taken to contain any rodent after a bite to determine if the animal has an infection.

Rat bites often lead to infection. Watch for these signs of infection:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Heat
  • Weeping pus

When to See the Healthcare Provider

Always consult your healthcare provider after a rat bite. You may need a tetanus immunization or you may need stitches.

Wounds on the face or hands are a special concern due to the risk of scarring or loss of function and should always be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

Illnesses Caused by Rat Bite

If you do get bitten by a rat, the main concern is developing an infection. One such infection is known as rat-bite fever (RBF), which can be transmitted either through an infected rat's bite or scratch or by simply handling a rat with the disease. It can also be contracted by eating food or drinking water contaminated by rat feces.

The two bacteria responsible for rat-bite fever are: 

  • Streptobacillus moniliformis (most common in the United States)
  • Spirillum minus (most common in Asia)

The signs and symptoms of infection from each bacteria are slightly different. The good news is that rat-bite fever can be effectively treated with an antibiotic. If left untreated, though, rat-bite fever can be potentially fatal.

Streptobacillus Rat Bite Fever

Watch for the following symptoms and seek medical attention right away if you experience one or more of the following symptoms or signs:

  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Pain in the back and joints
  • Rash on the hands and feet, usually accompanied by one or more swollen joints (rash usually appears two to four days after the fever)

Symptoms of rat-bite fever usually appear three to 10 days after the exposure or a bite but may occur up to three weeks later. In most cases, the actual bite or scratch wound is healed by the time the fever starts.

Spirillum Rat Bite Fever

Symptoms of spirillum RBF usually come on one to three weeks after being exposed to an infected rodent. They are more variable than streptobacillus RBF, but may include:

  • Fever, which may reoccur after it resolves
  • Irritation and a possible ulcer at the bite wound
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Swelling around the wound site
  • A rash that starts after the wound begins to heal

Haverhill Fever

The symptoms associated with Haverhill fever (another form of rat-bite fever that comes from ingesting contaminated food or fluids) may include developing severe vomiting and a sore throat.

Rabies Risk Minimal

Rats are not a major source of rabies infection—a common misconception. In fact, humans get rabies from bats more often than from any other animals. Raccoons are the species most likely to have rabies, followed by bats, skunks, and foxes. Rabies transmission from rodents to humans is extremely rare.


Rat-bite fever should always be treated by the healthcare provider in order to heal completely. If untreated, rat-bite fever can be serious. The healthcare provider will prescribe antibiotics for both types of fever, which usually include:

  • Amoxicillin 
  • Penicillin
  • Erythromycin
  • Doxycycline 

Patients with severe forms of rat-bite fever that affect the heart could get high-dose penicillin and either streptomycin or gentamicin.

Frequently Asked Questions

How common is rat-bite fever?

Rat-bite fever is rare. However, cases may not always be identified since the bacteria are difficult to diagnose, and the condition often responds well to prescribed antibiotics. About 20,000 rat bites occur in the United States each year, and the risk of rat-bite fever due to Streptobacillus moniliformis is thought to be about 10%.

Can you get rat-bite fever from a mouse?

Yes, it's possible. Other rodents can carry the bacteria for rat-bite fever, including mice, squirrels, gerbils, and guinea pigs. If you are bitten by a mouse or other rodent, clean the wound as detailed above and contact your healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, infection is the major concern with any animal bite, particularly from rats. Keep the area as clean as possible throughout healing.

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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Signs and Symptoms of Rat-bite Fever. Updated January 18, 2019.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How is Rat-Bite Fever Spread? Updated January 18, 2019.

  3. Akter R, Boland P, Daley P, Rahman P, Al ghanim N. Rat Bite Fever Resembling Rheumatoid Arthritis. Can J Infect Dis Med Microbiol. 2016:7270413. doi:10.1155/2016/7270413

  4. Gupta M, Oliver T. Rat-bite Fever (Streptobacillus moniliformis, Sodoku, Spirillum Minor). StatPearls Publishing. Updated June 17, 2019.

  5. Gaastra W, Boot R, Ho HT, Lipman LJ. Rat bite fever. Vet Microbiol. 2009;133(3):211-28. doi:10.1016/j.vetmic.2008.09.079

  6. Madhubashini M, George S, Chandrasekaran S. Streptobacillus moniliformis endocarditis: case report and review of literature. Indian Heart J. 2013;65(4):442-6. doi:10.1016/j.ihj.2013.06.019

  7. King KY. Rat bite fever. UpToDate. Updated October 9, 2020.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rat-bite fever: Infection in animals. Updated January 18, 2019.

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