Everything You Need To Know About Cat Bites & Scratches

Did you know that 36 million households in the U.S. own a cat? Since cat ownership is so prevalent, cat bites and scratches account for a large percentage of injuries and infections we see at GoHealth Urgent Care, and cat bites and scratches can lead to disease if left untreated. Here’s everything you need to know about these common, yet potentially serious conditions.

1) Cat bites are more likely to get infected than dog bites.

While cat bites happen less frequently than dog bites, cat bites are five times more likely to become infected than dog bites. This happens for two reasons. First, cat teeth are slender and sharp, so they inject bacteria deeper into the tissue, tendon sheaths, and joints than dog teeth, which are usually blunter and wider. Making infections from dog bites less severe. Second, cats tend to breathe through their noses, which means their mouths are closed most of the time, which allows more bacteria to accumulate in their mouths.

2) Cats have more than 200 strains of bacteria in their mouths.

Speaking of cats’ mouths...there are more than 200 strains of bacteria that could be hiding in your favorite furry feline’s mouth, which means there are hundreds of different infections you can contract if your cat bites you (though the most common bacteria that causes cat bites to become infected is called Pasteurella multocida).

3) Cat bites can lead to serious infections.

A study found that one in three patients who sought medical attention for a cat bite needed to be hospitalized, and two-thirds of those hospitalized patients required surgery. Cat bites tend to occur on patients’ fingers, hands, and wrists, which contain delicate tendons, ligaments, and tissue. Infections in these small, intricate spaces can cause significant complications if not treated early and aggressively.

4) “Cat Scratch Disease” really does exist!

Infections don’t just come from cat bites; they can come from cat scratches as well, causing an infection known as Cat Scratch Disease. Approximately 40% of cats are infected with a bacteria called Bartonella henselae, which they contract from flea bites and flea droppings. When a cat scratches a human, B. henselae can enter the scratch and cause a localized skin infection, as well as an infection that spreads to the lymph nodes close to the scratch. The symptoms of cat scratch disease can include fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, and headaches.

5) The sooner you seek medical attention, the better.

Because cat bites can become infected quickly, and those infections can spread rapidly, it’s imperative to seek medical attention immediately following a cat bite or a cat scratch.

Most patients who sustain a cat bite are started on oral antibiotics prophylactically (before there’s evidence of infection), in an attempt to prevent the need for hospitalization or surgery. It’s also important to make sure your tetanus shot is up to date any time you sustain an animal bite or other open skin wound.

Multiple studies have shown that the sooner patients with cat-inflicted injuries receive appropriate wound care and antibiotics, the better their outcome is likely to be. *** At GoHealth Urgent Care, we’re open 365 days a year to care for you! We offer wound care, tetanus shots, sutures, prescriptions...and lots of other services, too.

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Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant