Cat Spraying No More

Infections from Cat Bites

If your cat’s tail starts thrashing, her mood has changed. Time to distance yourself from her.

A cat bites one in every 170 people in the US each year. Cat bites can lead to infectious diseases; the most common ones being bacterial infections. Mostly, the bacteria enter an individual’s body through the cat’s saliva.

According to a recent research, 80% cat bites lead to infections. Common symptoms of these infections include sore throat, fever, headache, and swelling of lymph nodes. If there is bleeding from the wound, the risk of infection is less. The bleeding would allow some of the infectious saliva to move out of the wounded area. The wound caused by a cat bite is known as a puncture which can be quite deep. This is because cats have sharp teeth and when they bite on places like the hand, it may easily pierce the joint or the membrane sheath around the tendon, thus causing an infection in the closed spaces that allow the bacteria to grow. Moreover, many types of bacteria dwell in the cats’ mouth. The affected person would require immediate medical attention. In severe cases, surgical intervention may be required and the use of antibiotics may be of no help. Moreover, a delay in the treatment may lead to permanent damage like the loss of joint mobility.

Here are some of the serious conditions that could result from deep puncture wounds caused by a cat bite.

Pasteurellosis Infection

This is a bacterial infection caused by pasteurella multocida, a species of Pasteurella. The bacteria reside in the mouth and respiratory tract of cats (without showing any symptoms). Thus, when bitten, scratched, or licked by a cat carrying these bacteria, they enter the wound and cause an infection. Furthermore, pre-existing wounds may also get infected. It takes about 2 to 12 hours for the symptoms to occur. Infections reaching the tissues prove to be riskier as they may affect the tendons and the bones, thereby causing permanent damage.

The symptoms at the site of infection include cellulitis, swelling, redness, tenderness, and discharge. Infection may also be caused in the respiratory tract, causing sinusitis and ear infections. More severe symptoms include pneumonia or lung abscesses (in case of those with underlying pulmonary disease) which is rare. The infection may also lead to relatively uncommon symptoms such as eye infections, blood poisoning, and gastrointestinal problems.

In most cases, the complications can be avoided by treating the infection with antibiotics at the earliest. The standard treatment with antibiotics would take 7-14 days, depending on the severity of the condition. If left untreated, it may lead to a condition known as meningitis which may prove to be fatal.

Things to Consider
It is necessary to wash your hands carefully after coming in contact with or handling animals to stay away from contamination. A bite or a scratch need not always be the cause for this infection but even a lick can transmit the pathogens. In cases of pneumonia and meningitis, remember to inform the doctor about any recent animal contact, even in case of the absence of bites or scratches. Based on each one’s case, the right antibiotic treatment would be recommended.

Streptococcal Infection

This infection is caused by the streptococcus or ‘strep’ group of bacteria. Streptococcus mitis is said to be the most common Streptococcus species isolated from cat bite wounds and Streptococci are believed to be the second. The symptoms of this infection would take more than 24 hours to appear after the bite.

The symptoms of this kind of infection may include chronic illness, painful swelling, and reddening in the area. Gradually, like pasteurellosis, in this too, the pain and swelling progresses to the whole body.

Penicillin is the antibiotic of choice in treating streptococci infections. Due to the overuse of antibiotics, there are some strains of streptococcus which have become resistant to them.

Staphylococcal Infection

Staphylococcus aureus or ‘Staph’ is the bacterium causing this infection. This bacterial infection caused due to cat bites leads to conditions like skin infections, blood poisoning, and pneumonia. The symptoms may appear within 24 hours.

The symptoms include red, swollen, or painful skin lesions (like pimples or boils) which may be warm to touch or filled with pus. In some cases, fever may also be experienced.

This condition is treated with topical, oral, or intravenous antibiotics, depending on the depth and severity of the infection.


This is a cat bite infection with a type of fungus called Sporothrix schenckii, that causes open sores in animals. Further, this disease can be spread to people on being scratched or by coming in contact with the open sores of an infected cat. However, this condition is rare and it can be treated in both humans and animals. It is more commonly observed on the fingers, hands, or face, and also on the locations of open wounds. The first symptoms may appear one to twelve weeks after the bite.

A nodule that is usually the first symptom on the skin, may open and drain. The surrounding lymph nodes may become swollen.

In this case, treatment with antibiotics would not prove effective as Sporothrix is a fungus and not a bacterium. Hence, antifungal drugs or medications such as itraconazole may be prescribed by the doctor. Another drug called fluconazole is used for those who cannot tolerate itraconazole.

Cat Scratch Disease

It is a bacterial disease that results from a bite or a scratch by a cat. The causative agent in this case is Bartonella henselae. Usually, kittens rather than adult cats are believed to carry the bacteria and cause this disease in people. While adults who are healthy usually recover with no persistent effects (but it may take several months to recover completely), those with a compromised immune system may experience severe consequences. The first symptoms may appear within 3-14 days of the infection. It is always better to consult the doctor on observation of the signs.

This disease is characterized by swollen lymph nodes, especially those around the head, neck, and upper limbs. Fever, fatigue, poor appetite, and headache may also be experienced in the affected people.

Usually, this disease is not very serious and medical treatment may not be required. The use of antibiotics such as azithromycin might prove beneficial. Other antibiotics like clarithromycin, rifampin, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, or ciprofloxacin can also be used. This condition may be serious for people with a weakened immune system and for those having AIDS. In such cases, the treatment with antibiotics is believed to be effective.


Another disease from a cat bite is rabies, which is a viral infection that affects the brain and the spinal cord. It thereby causes inflammation and irritation. Usually, the cats are themselves infected by an animal and thus, carry the virus in their saliva which is spread by their bites to humans. This condition is more often found in dogs than cats. However, it is fatal. The incubation period for rabies is 2 to 12 weeks, but it can be as short as 4 days too.

The symptoms include headache, fever, myalgia, pain at the site of the bite, restlessness, excitability, sore throat, fatigue, lack of appetite, etc. Further, these could lead to severe symptoms such as coma and death.

Those bitten by a cat infected with rabies should seek medical attention to ascertain whether a series of injections (also called post-exposure prophylaxis) would be required to prevent this fatal disease.

Things to Consider
For the protection of the health of people, rabies vaccination of cats is required by law in many areas. Make sure to keep the rabies vaccination current even though your cat is kept indoors, in order to rule out any possible risks. Even if you know that the cat has no rabies, a tetanus shot is recommended. If you have got one in the last 5 years, it is not required. However, if you are getting one, it would have to be done within 72 hours of the cat bite.

Other rare diseases that have been associated with a cat bite include ulceroglandular tularemia and human plague.

Here are some first-aid measures that would be helpful in controlling the infection at home. Wash the wound with soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment on the area, and then cover the wound with a sterile bandage.

On observing symptoms like increased pain, redness, swelling, drainage, or fever, one should consult the doctor immediately. This is necessary so as to rule out the possibility of complications.

Updated: May 30, 2018 — 1:05 am

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