Are Cat Bites Dangerous?
Yes, they can be.
We don’t want to think that a quick bite from our fluffy pet can be harmful to us, but it certainly can be.
If it happens to you, you should take it seriously.
Why Are Cat Bites Serious?
These injuries can be serious because they often cause infection.
Cats have a lot of bacteria in their mouths. They also have sharp and narrow teeth which can inflict deep puncture wounds. These punctures potentially allow bad bacteria to get deep into joints or tissue.
Once bacteria is inside a person, it can infect and spread fairly quickly.
These small but deep wounds may not bleed much or look bad at first, so owners sometimes think they are not serious.
But don’t make the mistake of ignoring them.
Try to clean the wound as best as you can. These types of small but deep wounds can be difficult for a person to clean.
Studies show that about half of these types of bites lead to infection.
You should call your doctor and describe what happened.
Pay close attention to the wound area. If it gets swollen, red, feels warm, or is painful, or if you feel any flu-like symptoms or run a low fever, you should go to urgent care.
They will examine you and most likely prescribe antibiotics. It’s not uncommon for people, especially children, the elderly or health-vulnerable individuals to be hospitalized.
Cat Bite Infections
Why can a cat bite get infected so easily?
When a cat bites, its long and thin fangs can puncture the skin and leave bacteria underneath the skin.
The small hole in the skin can close and heal over quickly, but the bacteria is left under the skin where it can thrive, multiply and spread.
Dogs have bacteria in their mouths too, but when they bite a person, the pressure of the bite is spread out over several teeth. And those teeth are less sharp than a cat’s teeth.
So when a dog bites, the wound is over a greater surface area, but it doesn’t go as deep. A cat bite can be more like getting a shot with a needle. One or two deep punctures.
Cat Bite Infection Diagnosis
Pet bites can be serious. Very serious.
Whenever you receive a bite, even if it is just a small nip, you should immediately and thoroughly wash the area and determine if the bite was serious or not.
But even a small hole in the skin can lead to an infection. You need to be cautious.
Infection from Cat Bites
A cat bite infection can’t be diagnosed immediately, but signs will usually develop within 24 to 48 hours.
Many of the symptoms will appear near the area of the bite.
Swelling and inflammation are two examples of how the body responds to bacterial infection. These are warning signs that your body is fighting back.
The location of the bite may be important. A deep bite over a joint, such as your wrist, may lead to a serious situation more than one in a fleshy area, such as in your forearm or upper arm.
Cat Bite Infection Symptoms
If you develop an infection due to a bite, there are two types of symptoms you may experience.
There are symptoms that will occur right near the bite area, such as redness. And there are other symptoms that may affect your body in general, such as fever.
Bite Area Infection Symptoms:
- Redness of the skin
- Pain or tenderness
- A warm feeling in the surrounding skin
- Fluid or pus draining out
- Any puffing up or growth of anything that looks like a pimple
- Loss of sensation or numbness near the area
- Red streaks
- Any type of unusual odor
General Symptoms Often Caused by an Infection:
- Fever or chills
- Stiffness in a finger or hand
- Swelling in any part of the body
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle weakness or fatigue
- Lower than normal blood pressure
- Rapid heartbeat
Two Symptoms To Really Watch For
The first symptom you will usually notice is redness of the skin around the wound. And if the redness spreads out at all away from the wound, it could be a really bad infection.
The second sign to really watch for is the temperature of the skin around the wound. If the skin there is warmer than the rest of your body, that means your body is sending antibodies there to fight infection.
If you only focus on one or two things, these are what you should focus on.
If you experience these symptoms, you should call a doctor. They will move forward with further diagnosis and treatment.
Infections can run the gamut from just slight discomfort to a serious condition requiring hospitalization.
If you have a weakened immune system or haven’t been keeping up on your tetanus shots, you should act more aggressively. Don’t wait to call your doctor.
Cat Bite Treatments and Healing
If your cat bites you, you should first try to determine the severity of the situation.
Slight scrapes of the skin are generally not serious, while deep punctures can be.
However, if a wild or stray animal bit you, then consider any wound to be serious.
How to Treat a Cat Bite if it Seems Minor
If her teeth didn’t break the skin, you are not at risk.
Scratches that are just at the surface of the skin have only a slight risk as long as you can clean it well.
If you have a minor wound:
- Wash your hands first.
- Visually inspect the area to see how bad it is.
- Use soap and water to thoroughly wash the area.
- If the wound isn’t bleeding, don’t be afraid to press on it to possibly help flush out any bacteria that might be in it.
- Apply an antibiotic ointment if you have one.
- Cover the area with a clean bandage.
- Pay close attention to the wound area and your own general health for the next 48 hours.
- If you have a wound that is worse than minor, or if it was a stray or wild cat that bit you, you will need to do each of the previous steps, but you may also need to focus on stopping any bleeding by applying pressure.
- Once you have it cleaned and dressed, you may also try to keep the wound elevated above your heart to help prevent swelling.
- Then you will want to call a doctor.
Your Doctor Knows How to Treat Cat Bites
Treatment for animal bites varies based on the location and severity of your injury, along with your overall health.
Your doctor will ask you the specifics as to what kind of animal bit you and then examine the wound area.
She will rewash and clean the area and possibly take away any damaged skin or tissue.
If necessary, stitches may be used to close the wound.
She will look for any signs of infection and probably prescribe an antibiotic to help prevent one from occurring.
You will discuss your tetanus vaccination history and she will probably give you a tetanus shot if your last vaccine was more than five years ago.
Your doctor will probably already know your overall health history, but if you have any condition that weakens your immune system, make sure she knows about it.
A blood test or X-rays may be ordered to diagnose any spread of infection. If oral antibiotics aren’t sufficient, intravenous antibiotics may be recommended until the infection clears up.
When it seems necessary, your doctor will schedule a follow-up visit to ensure that your wound is progressing.
In the days following your visit, you will need to monitor your situation for any symptoms of worsening infection. If anything gets worse, you should call your doctor right away.
If your wound is deep and it came from a wild animal, there is potential for exposure to rabies. That would be a whole different discussion and course of action.
What About Tetanus?
Because most people in the United States keep current on the tetanus vaccine, tetanus infection is rare.
Children get multiple shots when they are very young. An adult should get a tetanus shot at least every 10 years.
If you don’t remember when your last tetanus shot was, there is no harm in getting one earlier.
Doctors will often recommend a tetanus vaccination if they see a patient with a possibly contaminated animal wound, and that person hasn’t had the shot in the last five years.
There is no cure for tetanus.
Tetanus is a severe infection that can cause symptoms such as lockjaw, high fever, difficulty swallowing, body stiffness or spasms, or even convulsions.
What About Rabies?
The virus rabies is uncommon in cats in the United States. The vast majority of people who get bitten do not need rabies shots.
If you know the owner of the pet that bit you, ask the owner for that pet’s vaccination records.
The cat can be isolated and monitored for signs of illness for 10 days. If the cat remains healthy, then there is no danger of rabies to you.
If your biter was a stray, report it to animal control. They will try to find it and test it.
If the animal can’t be found, your healthcare provider may start the treatment of rabies vaccine shot series.
Your doctor can’t wait to see if you develop symptoms. Once you develop symptoms, it will be too late. It’s usually fatal.
Cat Scratch Fever
While its name sounds silly, cat-scratch fever is a medical condition.
It is spread by an animal scratch or bite.
It is not generally serious, but it can be a long-lasting condition.
Cat Scratch Fever Symptoms Can Include:
- Swelling at the bite site
- Tenderness or blistering at the bite site
- Fever or chills
- Sore throat
- Nausea or vomiting or lack of appetite
Cat scratch fever symptoms begin a few days or a few weeks after the incident.
The symptoms can last a few months or several months.
The condition is cured by taking antibiotics.
How to Prevent Getting Bitten
So how does one prevent getting bit in the first place?
Tips to not getting bit include:
- Teach your kitten that biting is not allowed and that you don’t like it.
- Train your cat to enjoy playing, but that your hands and fingers aren’t toys.
- When you bring home a new pet, select carefully.
- When pets are fighting, don’t put your hands in the way.
- Don’t disturb your pet when he is eating, unless you know it’s okay.
- Be sure your kids know how to be gentle with your pets.
- Be careful when grooming, cutting nails, giving medications, or doing any procedure that may scare your kitty.
- Keep up on your pet’s vaccinations.
- Don’t approach strange cats you see outside.
- If a friendly cat approaches you on the street, be careful when putting your uncovered face, fingers, hand, or arm near their mouth or claws.
What To Do Going Forward
Cat bites can be serious.
Be careful. Do what you can to change how you interact with your pet.
Don’t bother them when they don’t want to be touched. Don’t tease them.
Don’t unintentionally train them to bite your hand or fingers as a form of play.
Make sure they have their rabies vaccines.
If you get bitten, carefully investigate the wound and the situation to determine if it is superficial or if it is serious.
Clean and treat the wound. If you need to call your doctor — do it. If you aren’t sure if it’s serious — call anyway.
If you see any sign of infection, call your doctor or go to urgent care or even an emergency room. Don’t wait until the weekend.
DISCLAIMER: The previous article is not intended to be medical or healthcare advice. Do not consider this article to be professional or medical advice. The authors of this article are not doctors or veterinarians. The previous article is to be taken as mere general knowledge only. The only medical advice you should trust is the advice and guidance you receive from your own doctor or the doctor and staff you have contact with in your town. Please contact local healthcare professionals if you have received any bite from any animal, pet or otherwise.