Cat Bites - What Every Cat Owner Needs To Know

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  1. Cat Bites - What Every Cat Owner Needs To Know
    Our sweet cats are also fierce predators that have teeth and claws and know how to use them. When it comes to cat-induced injuries, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so if your cat tends to bite and/or scratch people, please read our article about Cat Aggression Toward People.

    However, even the most docile cat can bite when in fear, and some cats are more prone to aggressive behavior than others. As a responsible owner, you have to be aware of the risks of cat bites and know how to treat the wounds to reduce those risks.

    The information in this article is for educational purposes only. It does not replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If your cat has bitten or scratched you, seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

    Risks from a cat's bite

    Let's take a look at common - and not so common - types of infections that can be caused by your cat biting or scratching you.

    Infection

    A cat's mouth and claws are home to a multitude of bacteria. A study of 57 infected cat bite wounds showed a mixed bag of pathogens in each case, often including Pasteurella and Streptococci germs. These types of bacteria are harmless as long as they are outside our body, yet wreak havoc once inside.

    The bite marks may not look too bad at first. After all, cats are relatively small, so they rarely cause major tissue trauma or bleeding in the way a dog bite might. As the blood stops flowing and pain subsides, you may be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking the worst is behind you. However, with cat-induced injuries the real risk is from secondary infection.

    Our skin is the body's first line of defense against infections. Bacteria that are harmless on the surface of the skin can cause disease once they get into the body. Cats have very sharp teeth that drive the bacteria deep into the body where they can multiply and cause infection.

    What's more, when cats bite, they often sink their teeth into the hand, making their way into the joints and tendons. These are areas of the body which receive a diminished blood supply, so our immune system finds it more difficult to battle infection there.

    Unfortunately, the infection doesn't always remain local. Without proper medical care, infection can spread to the bloodstream and cause a life-threatening systemic infection which affects the entire body.

    In short, infections from a cat's bite can be very serious. One study found that a third of the patients who came to have their wound treated ended up being hospitalized. Even when the infection remained local, some patients required surgery to repair the damage to affected joints and tendons.

    What are the odds of your wound becoming infected? According to the CDC, "data on the number of people bitten or scratched by cats are limited because these incidents are not reported; however, 20%-80% of cat bites and scratches become infected".

    Cat Scratch Disease

    Cat Scratch Disease (CSD) is caused by a bacterium called Bartonella henselae. According to the CDC, about 40% of domestic cats become hosts to this bacterium at some point in their lives. The cats usually don't show any symptoms, but can pass the bacteria on to humans through a bite, scratch or simply licking an open wound.

    The symptoms for CSD in humans include a mild infection in the area of the wound and also enlarged lymph nodes, fever and fatigue. These symptoms show up 3-14 days after initial exposure. CSD usually does not require any special treatment, but complications can occur, especially in young children and immunocompromised adults.

    Rabies

    Rabies is the most dangerous of all known infectious diseases. Fortunately, this lethal disease is extremely rare in domestic cats who live indoors only. However, if you were bitten by a stray cat or a cat that goes outside and is not fully vaccinated against Rabies, this could be cause for concern.

    Fortunately, there is an effective protocol that can prevent Rabies if given in time, so make sure to discuss this option with your healthcare provider. Read more about Rabies and cats here -
    Rabies: What You Need To Know To Protect Your Cat

    Tetanus

    Tetanus from cat bites or scratches is extremely rare, but not impossible. It's always a good idea to be up to date on your Tetanus shots, so if you have been bitten or scratched by a cat and have not had a Tetanus shot in the last 5 years, talk to your healthcare provider about getting a booster shot against this excruciating disease.

    Other infections diseases

    Tularemia, Sporotrichosis and the Plague are rare zoonotic diseases which can be potentially transmitted through cat bites. You are extremely unlikely to contract them from your pet cat.

    Cat Bite First Aid

    We hope that you're convinced by now that a cat bite should be taken seriously! Fortunately, by following a few basic rules, you can greatly reduce the risk for infection.
    1. Thoroughly wash the wound with soap and warm water. This should be done as soon as possible. You may not be able to kill off all of the bacteria, but the more of them you remove, the easier it will be for your body to fight off infection.
    2. Seek medical attention if the wound is deep. Your healthcare provider may decide to start you on a course of antibiotics to prevent infection from developing.
    3. Carefully monitor the wound. If it becomes red, painful, swollen or warm to the touch, seek immediate medical attention. Infections can progress within hours, so do not delay treatment.
    4. Get a Tetanus shot if you haven't had one in the last 5 years.
    5. If you do not own the cat that bit you or you're not sure if the cat is vaccinated, contact animal control or your local health department. They will instruct you regarding the risk of Rabies in your area and the need for Rabies shots.
    6. If you become sick with any type of infection in the following weeks, let your healthcare provider know that you were bitten so they can rule out diseases such as CSD.
    And remember, don't panic. As long as you follow these simple rules, chances are everything is going to be ok. Never punish your cat for biting and remember, he or she must have been just as frightened by this as you were. After taking care of your wound, take the time to read the following articles -
    Cat Aggression Toward People
    How To Stop Playtime Aggression in Cats
    Re-directed Aggression in Cats
    When Physical Problems Turn into Behavior Problems

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Comments

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  1. meowsdower
    I had cat scratch fever when I was a kid....I thought it was so cool.
  2. ImKellz
    I have a 2 month old cat and when she bites its not in an aggravated state showing fear or any aggression at all she mostly purrs and curls up right under me and bites my face hands or feet to wake me. Mostly she is biting while playing as well how can I show my cat to show affection without the love bites
  3. WittyKat
    I can only relate to my experiences on this. We adopted a cat a few months ago that had been declawed on all four paws. Personally, I am against declawing, but my bf was unaccustomed to house pets and, after convincing him to agree to getting a kitty, this was my compromise to insure that there would be no damage to the furniture. This cat also had a traumatic start to his life (former owner shot & killed and he was left in the home for a week before being found and taken to a shelter). "George" has adapted very well, but he does tend to bite if he gets annoyed or excited. He never breaks the skin, but often bites hard enough to leave teeth imprints. It's not a major issue, but I thought I'd get some input. I am fully aware that a cat's jaws are strong enough to break the skin, having once been bitten by a semi-feral cat many years ago. The worst biting incidents are rare and have occurred when I have made the mistake of keeping my face in close proximity to his for more than a few seconds which has resulted in him biting my face. Fortunately, this is avoidable. The more frequent incidents involve biting my (or my bf's) arm or hand and is usually preceded by intense tail swishing. My reaction is to push his face away gently and tell him "no". If he continues, I will push him away from me (again, not roughly). Does anyone have similar experiences, input or advice?
    1. mani
      Hi WittyKat, It's best to ask questions in the forums. This is more an area for comments. :)
  4. Merlin77
    One time, I was giving Snake a treat and she miss calculated her bite and got her teeth real deep into my finger. Boy that was painful. I washed it with water and slapped on a band-aid. About three days later, after a little swelling, it was more-or-less healed. I had to squeeze out some pus, which was not fun, but now I don't even have a scar from the bite. For people bit by feral cats though, the chance of infection is much higher. Still, Raini (who is feral and has never seen a vet in her life), has scratched me a few times and I've been fine. Maybe I'm just lucky?
  5. posiepurrs
    Anytime the skin is broken there is a potential of infection, be it caused from fright or a play bite.
  6. Sallysoo
    People have to understand that "play" bites and tiny scratches many a times are harmless, esp from our indoor kitties. A real bite and harsh scratch, esp from strays, could be harmful and sometimes do require medical attention.
  7. leen and alice
    Aghhh.. my Alice is a fierce biter\scratcher... she gets mad and triggered a lot .. mostly when I m trying to pet her at the wrong time or give her a cuddle.. shes a really moody kitty.:dunno:
    1. Lilahbear
      Mine is the same way! I think it’s just the different personalities, I’ve learned to loved my baby girl even if she doesn’t like being pet or grabbed most of the time haha
      leen and alice purraised this.
  8. Zandalee
    Way over the top. Anyone reading this would never get a cat. Been bit and scratched all my life and not once did it even get sore, infected, or not immediately heal.
  9. crazycatlass
    Cat bites are nothing to sneeze at, but there's another step that will help prevent infection: let it bleed freely for a while before you clean the wound. It sounds counterproductive, but three separate instances have led me to this belief, along with the advice of a family member who spent many years running her own animal grooming business.
    1: My father was bitten by a skittish cat and almost needed stitches. He cleaned the bite, wrapped it tightly to stop the bleeding, and rushed to the ER. It developed an abscess the size of a golf ball despite proper care. 2: When I was a young child, I was bitten by an aggravated stray I shouldn't have been petting. I bled uncontested for a good few minutes before my folks found out and treated it. The wound healed easily with no infection. 3: My partner was just bitten on the back of his hand by our easily-spooked cat Skidd. The bite was shallow and didn't bleed much. Eric did everything right for treatment but the next day, his hand was swollen up like a balloon and he had an abscess; he's on heavy antibiotics to get it taken care of and may have to take time off work.
    While talking with the groomer relative, I remarked about the first two bites - Dad's, which became infected, and mine, which didn't. She laughed and explained there's another step for care: let it bleed freely before cleaning it. Bleeding flushes out bacteria from the animal's teeth, but immediately cleaning it can instead spread that bacteria around. She's been bitten by numerous animals over the years but always let the wound bleed a little before cleaning it; she has never had a bite go bad.
    It may be an old wives' tale, but I'm convinced. If you get bitten, let the wound bleed over the sink for a minute, then follow the steps above. Always keep a close eye on a cat bite for infection and get it treated pronto.
      Moggie Mom purraised this.
  10. MJO12
    My story: I decided to adopt a black cat that was hanging around my yard, because he didn't belong to any of the neighbors. I took him to the vet for vaccinations and neutering. After the vet examined him, she asked me to put him back in his carrier, so she could take him to the back room. Wrong Wrong Wrong. The vet tech or the vet should have lifted him (they are inoculated), or they at least should have offered me gloves. Frankie was very afraid, and sank his teeth into my finger and hand. Maybe he knew he would have to part with his cojones, and was paying me back. The vet told me to wash my hand, but didn't give me any information about the dangers of cat bites. Wrong Wrong Wrong. I was in pain all night and the wounds were red. I searched the trusty internet and scared myself. So I went to a medical aid unit and they refused to treat me. They said i needed intravenous antibiotics and must go the the emergency room. So I went to the emergency room and was shocked when they admitted me. I spent two nights in the hospital on round the clock intravenous antibiotics. Thank goodness it did the trick and I had no other problems. Meanwhile, Frankie had to be confined for 10 days at the vet, because he had no record of a rabies vaccination. I told people he was doing 10 days in jail for assault. I am changing vets. Frankie is fine, and I take my cues from him. He will let me stroke his neck a little, and he loves it when I play with him (the fishing pole toy). But I watch for his reactions. He seems to get overstimulated and then wants to bite or scratch. Do I have a cat with ADD? He's a beautiful black cat with yellow eyes, and I take him on his own terms.
      crazycatlass purraised this.
    1. leen and alice
      I never knew that cats could have ADD! as I was searching it up I noticed the traits that were shown sounded so familiar .. I think Alice has ADD!
  11. meand3cats2
    I also almost lost my hand when my Little Gigi fell off a chair and got stuck in the twisted metal leg. She was so scared that she bit into the tendon in my wrist. within 2 days it swelled so much I thought the skin would rupture. It took Antibiotics and several weeks of physical therapy to heal. Gigi was forgiven for being terrified and
    Thankfully did not break her leg! (She was not insured.)
    1. Anne
      What an ordeal! Thank you for sharing that story here!
  12. Vader2016
    Recently happened to me. My cats were fighting and I broke them up and the one bit my finger joint pretty bad. I ended up needing surgery to clean it out and was in hospital for 4 days. I am in OT now to try and gain some mobility back in that finger. Its still painful, red and stiff. Hoping I don't need anymore surgeries to repair the damage done to the joint.
  13. kittens mom
    My husband almost lost his hand to a cat bite that was one small wound on his upper hand. It bled and sealed and then within 24 hours the pain became excruciating. We took him to the doctor the next morning and his hand was already swelling like a balloon. We had daily trips for antibiotic injections and oral antibiotics along with daily blood work. His hand was in a half cast for several weeks at home. After he had nightmares about cats biting him. This was an outdoor cat that I told him not to pick up. The big clue was the pain he was in did not match the pinprick not even deep one puncture wound. Neither of us had ever heard of this before.
  14. WittyKat
    I had a semi-feral cat years ago. He got outside and I attempted to grab him, so he bit me. I am not prone to infection, but my hand became swollen and tender necessitating a visit to my doctor and 10 days on a strong antibiotic.
  15. posiepurrs
    A cat will also bite when in pain. I have been bitten several times and luckily never had to visit the doctor BUT a bite is nothing to be passed off lightly. My husband was bitten once and required 2 visits to the emergency room for treatment. When I am bitten I follow the advice of several breeders I know. I actually make the wound bleed for several minutes in an effort to remove bacteria.
      crazycatlass and segelkatt purraised this.
    1. mingnoosh
      He will quickly turn his head with mouth open as if to bite. I would jerk my hand away, for fear of a real bite. He Got me in the DUMMIE mode. HHA, HE SAYS I WILL Win over YOU. Now, I no long shriek away. I am going to win. Of course , he pushes and did a little nibble the next time I stroked him. So, I leave him. And say ,NO!. ignore him all day. He creeps up and wants attention. I get his fav. Biting toy and play with him on my terms. Problem solved . he is just being a cat.
      segelkatt purraised this.
    2. Jax53
      I agree I foster cats, and have been bitten scratched and caught shingles twice from one cat, We need to be aware of the signs, although I have had worse bites from my parrot, who then calls me sucker for biting me. Odd.