Cats are a source of love and affection for thousands of families but when cats are scared, anxious, or angry, they might feel the need to attack.
Are cat bites dangerous? And if they are, what should you do?
Cat bites can be a threat to humans. Bacteria in a cat’s mouth can transfer to humans and while the human immune system can fend off most bacteria, in some cases humans can get sick. Therefore, it’s a good idea to get medical advice, especially when bitten by a stray or feral cat.
Getting bitten by an animal is not a pleasant experience and luckily there are ways to avoid getting bitten. We’ll dive into that a bit more in this article but first, let’s have a look at why and when cat bites can be dangerous.
Are cat bites dangerous?
Generally, there are more stories about people getting bitten by dogs and getting sick compared to people bitten by cats.
However, to put it simply, cat bites can be just as dangerous.
The reason why there are fewer reports of cat bites is because often, cats don’t bite hard enough to break the skin whereas dogs do. However, cats can carry dangerous bacteria and pathogens in their saliva which have the potential to cause an infection.
When it comes to cat bites, researchers found in one study that, in the United States, dog and cat bites comprise 1% of all emergency department visits.
Out of those, cat bites represent about 3% to 15% of the total cases. But not only that, one study from Mayo Clinic discovered that 1 in 3 people (30%) get hospitalized after a cat bite.
Specifically for children, these numbers are even higher. According to researchers, 50% of children who get a cat bite will develop an infection.
So cat bites have the potential to develop into infections if left untreated. To make sure, always see a doctor after a cat bite, especially when there is a visible wound.
What infections can I get from a cat bite?
The CDC lists numerous infections that can spread from cat to human. Here are some of the most frequent infections you can get from a cat bite:
Rabies is always a concern when you receive an animal bite. If you don’t know if the cat has had its rabies vaccine, you should go to the closest medical center.
Keep in mind that it’s very rare for domesticated cats to contract rabies. Outdoor cats are at a higher risk but it generally only happens to stray or feral cats.
Make no mistake, you will know if the cat that bit you has rabies as the symptoms are clearly recognizable. These include, foaming around the mouth, drooling, high aggression and somtimes uncontrollable muscle spasms.
Pasteurella multocida is a bacteria found in several domestic animals. According to Cornell University, Pasteurella multocida lives in 70% to 90% of cats. This bacteria can cause several medical complications if left untreated.
A 2013 research explains that Pasteurella is the most common organism isolated from cat and dog bites. Immunocompromised people have higher risks of getting severe infections from these bacteria.
Pasteurella multocida is one of the primary causes of hand infections following domestic animal bites.
But not only that, a study from 2013 claims that P. multocida can frequently cause cellulitis and abscesses in the infected person. Getting a Pasteurella infection is something that should be avoided.
Cat scratch disease.
Around 40% of cats have a Bartonella henselae infection, also known as cat scratch disease. This disease can transmit from a cat to a person if the cat bites or scratches them.
The symptoms include fever, exhaustion, a swollen wound, and more symptoms. You are always at risk of this infection if a cat bites/scratches you or even if a cat licks an open wound.
What are the symptoms of a cat bite infection?
If you’re worried about the symptoms of a cat bite infection, pay attention to these signs.
The most usual early symptoms of a cat bite infection are:
- Swelling in the wounded area.
- Inflammation of the infected area.
- A bump where the wound is.
The most severe symptoms will typically follow after an infection is left untreated. The American Society for Surgery of the Hand lists some signs your cat bite infection is getting worse:
- Sweating and fever.
- Exhaustion or tiredness.
- Swollen glands.
- Poor appetite.
- Pain in the infected area.
- Night sweats.
- Nerve damage.
- Damage to tendons.
What should I got bitten by a cat?
The first thing is to remain calm. Check your wound and determine the most logical action.
If the cat bite doesn’t penetrate the skin or if it looks superficial, you can wash it with warm water and mild (preferably disinfecting) soap to rid yourself of any remaining bacteria on your hand.
When should I visit a doctor to treat a cat bite?
You should visit a doctor after a cat bite if your skin is broken, swollen or bleeding. In those cases, cleaning the wound yourself may not be sufficient to avoid infection and professional care or medication is required.
Especially visit a doctor if you develop the following symptoms after a cat bite.
You experience abnormal symptoms, such as fever, swelling, headaches, excessive bleeding, and more.
- The wound looks serious, and there are signs of deep penetration.
- You don’t know the health conditions of the cat that bit you.
- The cat acts strangely aggressively.
- You are an immunocompromised person.
- You haven’t received your shot against tetanus recently.
Common treatments for cat bites.
If your cat bite is more serious, this is what you can expect from your doctor.
The treatments for a cat bite will depend on the wound’s place and the cat’s rabies vaccination status. The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that the treatment should include:
- Cleaning the wound.
- To receive prophylactic antibiotics to prevent a bacterial infection.
- Providing post-exposure rabies treatment (if the animal could have rabies.)
- Receiving the tetanus vaccine (in case the person doesn’t have it.)
Following your doctor’s treatment will give you a better chance of curing your infection fast.
How to prevent a cat bite?
While accidents can occur at any time, you can reduce your risks of getting a cat bite by following these tips:
- Never push a cat’s boundaries.
- Don’t come close to a cat showing signs of aggression or fear.
- Be careful with unknown cats, keep your distance and never provoke anything.
- Introduce yourself slowly to any unknown cat, especially outdoor cats.
While cats are domestic animals, they retain some wild traits in their genes. Always respect any cat’s boundaries and understand when they want you to leave.
Are all cat bites the same?
Not all cat bites are the same, some are worse than others. Cats who are well-cared for by their owners usually have their vaccinations in order which greatly reduces the risk of them carrying diseases and bacteria that can make you sick.
These healthy cats usually also practice good personal hygene and are genally more healthy than strays or feral cats.
With outdoor cats, even if well-cared for, the risk is slightly higher because they may have a greater exposure to pathogence and bacteria than indoor cats.
Cats that clearly live outside, aren’t cared for or even wild cats pose the greatest risk of dangerous cat bites.
Our final thoughts
All cat bites have the potential to be dangerous to humans, especially smaller children. Although the risk with bites from indoor, well-cared for cats is much lower compared to outdoor or stray cats, always see your doctor in case of a serious bite.
It’s better to be safe than sorry in those cases as some bites may carry pathogens that are dangerous to humans and with which our immune system has a hard time fighting them off.
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