Cat Bites Can Be Dangerous: If Not Appropriately Treated They Can Be Lethal

Cat bites can be dangerous

The other night I was stretched out on the couch watching TV. Our two kitties, Sir Hubble Pinkerton and Dr. Hush Puppy were snoozing away, snuggled together under the afghan covering me. While I was trying to get more comfortable, my hand accidentally made contact with the sharp end of one of Dr. Hush Puppy’s canine teeth. While the impact itself lasted less than a second, the pain that followed was excruciating. It felt like I had been stabbed with an icepick. The wound kept bleeding almost as forcibly as Niagara Falls.

I generally don’t pay much attention to a cat scratch. I simply clean it, pour a little hydrogen peroxide on it and leave it alone. I have never had a serious cat scratch injury, so I think that just some minor attention is all that is necessary.

But cat bites are quite another story! Although technically Dr. Hush Puppy had not bitten me; since a cat’s mouth is loaded with extremely nasty bacteria that can cause serious – even life threatening injuries, being punctured by a tooth could have been just as dangerous.

Following the accidental puncture, I took ample precautions to make ensure that the wound wouldn’t become infected. Fortunately there were no major complications and it is healing well.

Dr. Karen Becker recently posted an excellent article on Healthy Pets that stresses the dangers inherent in cat bites. While they may not look serious, when bitten by a cat, the results can be devastating.

According to the article, a new study was recently performed at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN concerning cat bites. While dog bites receive plenty of attention; cat bites can be just as perilous. Because their teeth are very sharp, when a cat bites a human the bacteria in the cat’s mouth are quickly “injected” into the person’s body. In fact, 30 percent of cat bite patients in the study required a hospital stay.

193 patients who went to the emergency room or went to a doctor for a cat bite on the hand or wrist between 2009 and 2011 were evaluated by the researchers. The most common sites for cat bites are on the wrist and hand, and these bites often become infected.

The majority of patients were female with an average age of 49. Approximately 33 percent of the patients were hospitalized for infection or other issues related to the cat bite. The average time for these patients to receive medical intervention was 27 hours.

Of the 193 patients who were in the study, 36 were admitted to the hospital immediately. 154 were treated with antibiotics and discharged. 3 patients received no treatment. The majority of the patients who were treated with antibiotics and released recovered uneventfully, but 21 of these patients eventually had to be hospitalized. Eight patients required additional surgery. The hospital stay for these patients averaged about three days.

Twenty-six of those patients who were immediately hospitalized underwent further procedures. Eight patients required more surgery.

Abscesses and loss of joint mobility were among the long- term complications from the bites that had become infected, and patients who were bitten directly on the joints or wrists were likely to have been hospitalized than those who were bitten in soft tissue.

In her article, Dr. Becker added that the authors of the study acknowledged that while the study was relatively small, the authors stressed that although a cat bite may appear to be innocuous, both patients and doctors should take them very seriously; especially if they appear inflamed or swollen around the bite area. It is worth mentioning, however, that the press got hold of this study and exaggerated and misconstrued it as reported by Michael.

Have you ever received a cat bite? What did you do to have it treated? Share your experiences in a comment.


  1. Photo credit: Flickr User
  2. Associated page: Cat and dog bite statistics
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Cat Bites Can Be Dangerous: If Not Appropriately Treated They Can Be Lethal — 19 Comments

  1. Thank you for this Jo. I had heard about this study and noticed that some newspapers jumped on it and as usual exaggerated the consequences of a cat bite. One of the problems is that statistics from studies like this can be distorted by newspapers.

    One interesting aspect of this study, and there are many, is that, as I recall, we do not know how long people waited before they presented at a clinic with their infected cat bite.

    And we also do not know what the person did before presenting themselves at a clinic about treating the bite.

    So, for example, if a person carelessly gets bitten by cat and then leaves the bite and they do nothing for a number of days and the wound becomes inflamed due to an infection then you could argue that they are making things a lot worse because of neglect compounding initial carelessness by being bitten in the first place.

    A key aspect of the cat bite is to use one’s intelligence to avoid it in the first place and if, because of some unavoidable accident, one is bitten and the skin is broken then the person should take sensible precautions to avoid the wound becoming infected. Prompt action can be required and should be taken.

    The point I am trying to make is that the seriousness of a cat bite results most often from the degree of neglect and thoughtlessness of the person bitten.

    Also, many cat bites occur when playing with one’s cat – playing too hard and over energising the cat. Once again this is the responsibility of the person.

    From my perspective, the whole issue of cat bites revolves around people and how they interact with their cat and other cats.

    • I have heard this also about cat bites though I have never experienced any complications personally from them. I have been bitten too many times to count.I think I have taken prompt action most of the time but I know there have been times when I didn’t take any action at all…maybe I have been asking for trouble. Great article.

      • Like you, I have never been bitten seriously by a cat, so as to cause concern. It is a question of taking commonsense precautions and respecting the cat.

        I know I go on about this, and on, and on, which is boring but it is quite easy to avoid being bitten by a cat. There is no need for it and there should be nobody presenting themselves at hospitals with cat bites because on every occasion it is the person’s fault (well it is 99% of the time). That is my personal opinion and I think it is a fair one.

        Ultimately, it is about respecting the cat and knowing that the domestic cat is a high-quality predator at heart, perhaps the world’s greatest predator and it is that which demands respect.

        People tend to be arrogant and the arrogance gets in the way of their respect for the domestic cat.

        • There was a cat name Jennifer (isn’t that funny) that we were boarding at vet I worked for years ago and she bit me on my hand, that skin between my thumb and index finger and it was a a perfect hole all the way through.I washed my hands and that was about it. I didn’t have a problem with it at all other than it hurt a little. LOL I think some people have reactions and some don’t. Working at the vet, it’s bound to happen, we had cat gear we could wear when handling them but I would never wear it because it made it difficult to handle the cat, so I exposed myself to it, I guess I am just lucky it never turned bad on me. 🙂

  2. I was only once badly bitten by a half feral cat who was so frightened at being handled at the vets he panicked and went berserk as I was holding him for the vet, he got me between my thumb and finger. I did the usual, washing it and putting on antiseptic but it started swelling up and I had to go on antibiotics quickly.
    The scratches all over me were sore but healed quickly.
    A cat bite can be nasty but if dealt with quickly I wouldn’t say it was too dangerous.
    I think a dog bite is far worse because a dog really can do a lot more damage than a cat, especially the strong jawed breeds that hang on to their victim.

    • I agree that dog bites a more serious than cat bites because dog bites cause actual physical damage to the skin, muscles, bone, cartilage etc.. Whereas, it is only bacteria from the cat’s mouth that can harm a person and if that bacteria is tackled quickly there is no lasting damage.

      In fact, we know that dogs not infrequently kill people with their bite.

  3. Many,many years ago I was clerking for a judge at a cat show.All was going fine until she took a Russian Blue out of the show-cage and he took a major disliking to her for some reason or other- perhaps catching a whiff of another cat-and bit her up her many times biting her all the way up her arm almost if her arm was an ear of corn.

    I politely suggested she go to the ER for medical attention, but she pooh-poohed me- put some disinfectant on her arm and continued judging.

    The next morning her arm was swollen and little red lines (indicating blood poisoning) were appearing- and I finally convinced her to get some immediate medical attention. She finally agreed.

    She did not come back that day, and was out of commission for a couple of months following that biting attack. I saw her at another show a few months later. She told me that she wished she had taken my advice right away and that she needed to be more careful.

    By the way, the cat was not a vicious cat- in fact, he was very sweet. But being an intact male, catching the scent of another intact male was just too much for him that particular morning.

    • This is what I hate about cat shows, why should cats have to put up with a stranger handling them just so their ‘owner’ can get prestige!
      Those poor cats, stuck in show cages to be gawped at, I wouldn’t blame any of them at all who bit the judge.

      • I agree with you Ruth. Once again I have to repeat that if one is bitten by a cat is going to be the fault of the person or in this case persons meaning that people who organised the cat show.

        It does not surprise me that some cats become agitated at cat shows because they are unnatural places with lots of noise, lots of people, and lots of other cats.

        And as you say the cats get handled quite a lot. Nearly all of them behave absolutely placidly when out of their cage but but there must be a danger of this sort of thing happening.

        The cats can become quite stressed because I have seen them lying on their cat litter in their cages and their owners put curtains and such around the cage so they have somewhere to hide.

  4. I was bitten by a cat just once…and he got me with all four fangs…just beneath my thumb on the top and bottom of my hand. Although I got up immediately and washed it, the next morning the area was swollen as big as a softball, so off to urgent care I went.

    Cat bites I was told are the WORST, especially the puncture wounds as they almost immediately close back up with the germs ‘injected’ deep into the tissue…You just cannot get to them quickly enough to cleanse them. And as far as medication for any infection goes don’t let your doctor give you regular amoxicillin because it won’t touch the resulting infection. I followed up with my regular doctor the next day and he wanted to see me and the medication they gave me since the “doc in a box” said there were only two puncture wounds and I had to say..”NO. Look. Two on top? SEE? Top teeth. Then turned my hand over and showed him the other two. SEE? Bottom teeth!” “Oh.” Overnight the swelling had not subsided much but my doctor did confirm that they DID give me the correct medication (AUGMENTIN) which is the standard antibiotic for animal bites. Eventually the swelling went down but it took a good week. The fang marks on the top of my hand are still visible and if you look hard enough you can see the bottom ones.

    The bite was totally my fault…he was a cat from down the street, Chesters daddy actually. All my cats are used to me petting them all the way down their body, but this one wasn’t and when I got to his tail…he nabbed me but good.

  5. Great article, Jo.
    Many, many bites, scratches, gashes for me.
    By far, the worst is a bite. I’m all too familiar with the stinging and swelling.
    I’ve never pursued treatment; but, I did go to a clinic once just to have a ring cut off my very swollen hand to help with the healing.
    I, actually, sustain more injuries just trampling through the woods and brush than by cats. My last serious injury was when I bent over, a small twig pierced my eyeball, broke off, and I had the thing just protruding from my eye. I did feel the need to get that checked out.

  6. I have been bitten by our cat on numerous occasions. They were not serious and I did not have any complications from it. I am not a cat expert by any means, but I heard that when they bite you, that meant that they love you. Of course, he didn’t mean to hurt me in the first place. I just let them heal an never considered it to be a serious condition in the first place.

    • I am surprised to read that you have been bitten many times. I have never been bitten over many decades. It makes me think why have you been bitten so often. Perhaps you are just playing rough with your cat and you do not mind it when you are bitten. There is no need to ever be bitten if one takes precautions.

          • My previous female cat bit my hand on two separate occasions. It was when I lived overseas and the vets didn’t have nurses, so I was asked to hold my cat whilst they took blood samples. I don’t blame her for biting me. It was out of fear more than aggression. She was elderly and although she was a sweetheart the rest of the time, she was often a bit feisty at the vets.

            Both times the wound bled and my hand swelled up like something out of a cartoon. I jokingly referred to them as “botox” bites because the skin on my hand was so smooth and taut – not a wrinkle to be seen. On neither occasion did I vist a doctor or use antibiotics and a week later, my hand had fully recovered.

            I have to admit being sceptical about the horror stories of dangerous cat bites. (Curiously enough most of them seem to originate from the US.) When you take into consideration the number of shelter workers and vet staff worldwide who get bitten each day, if it were really so dangerous these reports would be much more widespread. The very reason such stories make the headlines is because they are so rare.

            Obviously people with a compromised immune system need to take extra care, but sensible hygiene precautions and antibiotics are usually all that’s required to treat a cat bite.

            In the UK, the NHS even has a page on their web site stating how the dangers of cat bites has been inaccurately reported. It also questions the validity of the research/studies quoted.


  7. I know this topic quite well. Several years ago my daughter was cat sitting for her cousin. This kitty was born with a deformed back leg and suffered from seizures. Keep in mind my daughter has worked with cats and dogs for many years as a groomer. She had to give the kitty her shot and the cat bit her in the arm. After cleaning the wound and using peroxide she later discovered a red line going up her arm. She went to the ER immediately and was admitted. They hooked her up to antibiotics and left the room. A short time later the lady in the next bed realized something was wrong with her. She rang the nurses bell and when they came in my daughter could not communicate. It turns out she was extremely allergic to the antibiotic they were using. She was hospitalized for 4 days before they sent her home. She turns out to be allergic to antibiotics that end with cellin. I guess there is a whole strain that they normally use, so if she ever has to go back for any other kind of animal she has to tell them which ones they cannot use on her. So I recommend that any cat bite should be looked at by a doctor.

    • This is interesting for me, Amy, because I am also allergic to certain antibiotics and I am allergic to penicillin. When I was young I was given lots of penicillin which made me allergic to it. Now, certain antibiotics make me very ill, far more ill than the illness for which the antibiotic was prescribed. I actually fainted once, many years ago, when I took an antibiotic to which I was allergic. It is the only time I have fainted in my entire life and I was eating dinner and just became unconscious within a second. Fortunately, my medical records make this clear so when I take antibiotics I take the right one. It is vital that I do and the same applies to your daughter.

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