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 normally bite you aggressively. They may bite instinctively in play because, for a domestic cat, play is play-hunting which involves biting. Good cat caregivers learn to understand how to interact and handle their cat to avoid bites and scratches at all time and for the lifetime of the relationship.
Also, 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). Or rarely, a cat might transfer aggression onto their owner because they have been wound up by something outside or even inside. A classic situation would be when a cat is chased by a fox let’s say and the cat can’t retaliate against the fox and so he expresses his aggression against his human companion. This is transferred aggression.
My cat occasionally bites me gently as a friendly gesture. He might also bite me gently and lick me in succession. These are all signs of friendship and not to be confused with unprovoked aggressive behaviour. Occasionally, the gentle ‘love bite’ might become too strong for me.
Sometimes people do get bitten hard by a cat and that will often, I believe, be the fault of the person or the problem can be traced back to human behaviour somewhere along the line so please don’t retaliate. 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. Admittedly, there are occasions when a cat will bite for no apparent reason but the hidden reason might be transferred aggression to name one example.
You can tell quickly if a cat bite has become infected because of the usual inflamed (red) skin around the bite. See photo above. You have to take antibiotics immediately to kill the bacteria otherwise it gets worse and can be serious. Don’t delay.
The key point to take note of here is that if you are genuinely bitten by your cat or another cat for whatever reason and the skin is broken, you should carefully watch and wait. You should clean the area perhaps use an antiseptic spray and wait to see if your body’s immune system can deal with the bacteria that will inevitably be injected under your skin. In my experience 95% of the time or more there will be nothing to do because there will be no bacterial infection which develops.
However, if the immediate area around the bite hole becomes red and inflamed as shown in the photograph then you must take steps quickly to kill the infection with antibiotics. Speed is important and I have a page on the best antibiotics for a cat bite which may help. But see your doctor ASAP. Don’t think that it will go away because it almost certainly won’t. It will almost certainly get worse. The red area will expand.
Occasionally people have to go to hospital for a cat bite that they neglected to deal with. And an elderly neighbour of mine was bitten by a stray cat and she had a very bad infection which put her in hospital for quite a long time. Elderly people are particularly vulnerable in this regard. If they mishandle a stray cat, this is how a bite can happen.
And now on to something similar: cat scratches.
Cat scratch fever(disease)
The first point to make about cat scratches is that they can be avoided. I have not been scratched for many, many years by my cat and he is an active, socialised feral cat. So, if you are being scratched you’ve got to learn to understand your cat and when he might instinctively take a swipe. They will nearly always be in response to what he thinks is play.
Secondly, cat scratches which lead to cat scratch fever are very rare. So once again if you’ve been scratched you just watch and wait. Almost on every occasion nothing will happen and the skin will heal naturally. But if cat scratch fever develops here is some information about it.
This is what the infection looks like although it varies in its extent.
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.
- Cat Scratch Fever (another post with slightly different information)
- Cat Scratch Fever Symptoms (new window). This is more medically orientated.