Can a domestic cat kill a person?

The swollen hand of Henrik Kriegbaum Plettner bitten by a rescue cat which eventually killed him
The swollen hand of Henrik Kriegbaum Plettner bitten by a rescue cat which eventually killed him. Image: the man in question.
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A domestic cat cannot kill a person outright. That’ll apply to any person from a toddler to an adult. But the salient word is “outright”. There is at least one way a domestic cat can kill a person and it’s happened. You can probably guess what it is. Bacteria.

Domestic cats, like humans, have bacteria in their saliva and on their claws. Pasteurella multocida is a bacterium found in the mouths of between 70 and 90% of cats. It has been found between 50 and 80% of cat bites on humans that become serious enough to seek medical attention.

The information comes from Cornell, a respected source. It is this bacteria which can be injected into a person with feline canine teeth. And if the person is vulnerable in terms of health issues already such as having diabetes because they are overweight and the illnesses that come from having diabetes (liver and kidney disease), this bacteria may develop inside them if they neglect the bite.

And as they neglect the bite and don’t take antibiotics as quickly as possible because there are signs of infection it may result in a disease called necrotising fasciitis which can be fatal.

So, under the circumstances a domestic cat is not killing a person outright and directly but the cat is killing a person slowly with the person’s assistance through carelessness.

You can imagine, therefore, that these circumstances are exceedingly rare. But I’m sure they happen. I can remember an old woman living near me who was bitten by a stray cat that she tried to befriend.

90-year-old woman

The woman was about 90 years old but coping with life alone. She let the bite develop a bacterial infection to the point where she needed to be hospitalised. And in the hospital, possibly because of inadequate care, she passed away. Another example where you start at square A and progress to square Z where square Z represents death.

I’m convinced that 90 or more percent of cat bites can be dealt with quite casually. You watch the bite wound and your body heals it naturally. There is nothing to do but to watch and wait.

But if you see signs of an infection developing through redness around the area of the bite, you must see your general practitioner to obtain antibiotics which will invariably kill the bacteria around the bite and in your bloodstream. This will cure the problem and there will be nothing more to do.

It will take one course of antibiotics. But if you neglect both your health and the bite you may end up in serious trouble.

Henrik Kriegbaum Plettner

Can a domestic cat killer person? Yes, is the answer under particular circumstances which are exceedingly rare. The circumstances that I mention above come from a story in newspapers today of a Danish man whose finger was bitten by a cat four years ago. His name was Henrik Kriegbaum Plettner. He was in bad health with gout, diabetes and pneumonia.

He did nothing about the cat bite and his hand swelled up. He ended up in a hospital where he stayed for a month undergoing 15 operations. Four months after the last operation his finger was not functioning properly and they decided to amputate it.

His health declined and he had a weakened immune system. It appears that the bacteria from the bite was in his bloodstream and the bacterial infection developed into necrotising fasciitis which killed him.

Medical study

As I understand it, a cat bite can lead to septicaemia which if left untreated can be fatal. Septicaemia is blood poisoning. It is also known as sepsis I believe. There is a medical study online published on the National Library of Medicine entitled ‘Overwhelming sepsis after a cat bite’.

A man was presented to a hospital emergency department with fever and inflammation of the skin (erythema) caused by increased blood flow which is the way the body reacts to an infection. The man had been bitten by his domestic cat. He was an alcoholic. The cat lived mainly outdoors.

They suspected that he had been infected by Pasteurella multocida. His biochemistry results revealed acute renal and liver failure. There were other medical issues. His hand had become ulcerated. That was treated. He was given intravenous antibiotics. He developed further ascites (a build up of fluid in the space between the lining of the abdomen and abdominal organs). He eventually died.

This is a very similar incident to the Danish man’s experience. The cat bite triggered an bad infection which was exacerbated by his ill health to the point where he died in hospital. An indirect death by a cat bite might be the diagnosis.

Some more on cat bites:

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