Cat Bites Signs of Infection

by Michael
(London, UK)

Before I talk about cat bites signs of infection I would like to put cat bites into perspective. A cat that is adequately socialised (raised to behave reasonably in relation to other animals and people) and is decently treated will not bite you aggressively. A cat might bite gently as a form of “kiss”. In the wild a tigress will “kiss” the male by biting him gently and then rubbing against him during mating (Sunquists).

cat scratch

My cat occasionally bites me gently as a friendly gesture. She might also bite and lick me in succession. These are all signs of friendship and not to be confused with unprovoked aggressive behaviour.

Sometimes people do get bitten hard by a cat and that will almost always, I believe, be the fault of the person. It may be the result of a playful child being unaware of how to handle and treat a cat or usually a kitten – a recipe for possible problems.

It is believed that the cat carries an organism called Rochalimaea henselae or less often a bacteria called Afipa felis. The organism lives in the mouth of an infected cat and causes no symptoms of illness to the cat. The organism is transferred to the cats claws and paws during grooming. Accordingly, the organisms can be transferred to people from a bite or a scratch. It has never happened to me and I am sure that it is very rare. It is called Cat Scratch Disease.

The cat is only able to transmit the disease to people during a window of 2 –3 weeks. Let’s say it will be unusual if you have been infected by Rochalimaea henselae.

The cat bites signs of infection (symptoms) are:

Event – cat bite signs of infection Timetable – % of cases – occurrence
Raised red sore at the site of the bite or scratch 3 – 10 days after the bite or scratch. There may be redness up the limb
Tender lymph nodes in the armpit (or neck and groin) This may last for 2 – 5 months
Low level of fatigue, headache etc. Less than 5% have this symptom
Other organs involved such as spleen, joints, eyes for example Rare
Life threatening Very rare and applying to people with suppressed immune systems

Important note: Cat scratch disease is rare and it is positively not a reason to declaw a cat. There are almost no reasons to declaw. Please see Declawing Cats.

Preventative common sense measures can be taken with children (teach how to handle a cat) and with people with defective immune systems. Young cats are more likely to scratch and bite it seems due to youthful vigour and lack of conditioning/socialisation.

More reading:

From cat bites signs of infection to Cat Health Problems

Source: Book 1 of PoC Medical References and Methods

Picture: Attribution 2.0 Generic creative commons license

Comments for
Cat Bites Signs of Infection

Click here to add your own comments


Nov 11, 2009 Hi Gail
by: Michael Thanks for the comment. Cats are smarter than we think and we think we are smarter than we are. Have you heard that The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ban the veterinary practice of declawing cats within city limits…Another one down..people want declawing stopped when they really think about it. It should spread nationwide but will it?

Nov 11, 2009 Cat Bites
by: Gail (Boston, MA USA) Thank you, Michael, for your post about cat bites. My beautiful tortie, Sadie, occasionally bites as a sign of affection, but over the years she has learned to bite gently. When she initially was a bit too rough, I would gently tap her on the head once and softly say “gentle” then I would imitate the gentle bite and softly repeat “gentle.” It didn’t take long for her to get it and, but for one occasion, has never bitten hard again.The one occasion she did deviate from gentle biting was once many years ago. She kept biting hard on what I thought was just little cut on my hand. She would also paw at it aggressively and it was painful. Since her behavior was out of character, I went to the doctor to get it checked. It turned out to be a minor skin cancer that was immediately removed and has never come back. Sadie has also never exhibited that behavior since. Who says cats aren’t smart?


Cat Bites Signs of Infection — 9 Comments

  1. Hi all! I have a question, my house was broken into a couple days ago, & since then my cats have seemed stressed, night before last 2 of them got into a HUGE fight, total ball of fur, my knee jerk reaction was to reach in & grab one of them, who didnt see me coming & of course, turned & bit me, he got my finger & broke thru the skin & I do believe to the bone, it has scabbed well but is very swollen & painful, I can barely bend it… do I need a dr you think or is it from the tooth going so far? by the way, once my cat realized what he did he will not leave my side, I cant even use the restroom without him staying right by my feet… LOL

  2. Hi, thanks for visiting. This is a matter of personal preference. If you are the cautious type there is no harm in seeing a doctor but you might not get to see one until several days have passed. At which point you will probably discover that the swelling etc. is due to the bite and not an infection.

    Personally, I would keep the wound clean, apply antiseptic cream and wait and watch. You will know if you have an infection soon enough! Then you can get some treatment.

    Another page on cat scratch fever:-

    Good luck.

  3. I agree with you–cat bites and scratches are common and rarely become anything more than a minor annoyance during healing. I’ve been bitten/scratched before (mostly during play time with young kittens) and have always been fine. However, last year I ended up in between a stray dog and cat and during their fight, I was bitten by the cat and dog (my fault for being in the middle–the cat didn’t mean to bite me).

    I immediately washed with soap/water, used peroxide, bandaids to keep the wound clean. The next morning, my finger felt like it was broken and I went to the doctor to get a splint. I had a raging infection and the doctor said if I had waited any longer, I could have lost my finger or even hand. I had a quick recovery (just needed antibiotics). If you ever have pain worse the next day or see red streaking around the wound, immediately seek medical attention for a dog or cat bite).

  4. Cat bites are nothing to play with. Puncture wounds run deep and close quick leaving harmful bacteria behind. 1 in 3 cat puncture bites to the hand require hospitalization (source: mayo clinic). If you get a puncture wound from a cat, even if it seems small, just go to the Dr and get some antibiotics and a tetanus shot. they are highly, highly infectious infectious. And no cats don’t always warn you… One minute purring and the next in a full attack.

    • Thanks Michelle. My cat bites me in play and the skin can be broken sometimes but only in a minor way. I wait and watch. People should never get into the situation where they can get bitten badly by a cat. Cat bites can always be avoided I feel with common sense, care and respect for the cat.

        • Fair enough. For me it depends how bad the bite is. A serious bite should be dealt with by a doctor. A neighbour of mine some years ago ended up hospitalised because of a cat bite. She was an old lady who did nothing about the bite. I was entirely her fault.

          • As cat lover I must say to you sir that you are very misguided to believe that every cat gives fair warning and that cat attacks are always provoked. Forgive my honesty but you are not an authority on cat behaviour or medicine. My message is simply that in the event of a cat bite, regardless of who is at fault, it is important to seek medical attention and crucial if it is a puncture to the hand area. You are far too concerned with blame for your opinion to be taken seriously.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The comment image uploader is unreliable but does work. If it fails to work and the picture is important please email me the photo: and tell me where it should go.