My Cat Scratched Me, Should I Be Worried?
August 1, 2021
It’s not uncommon to get an occasional scratch when you play with your cat. However, it’s important to take care of your wound and monitor it carefully for complications.
Not all cat scratches are dangerous, but certain circumstances may increase your risk of developing certain diseases and other health risks.
Read on to learn more about some of the possible dangers associated with cat scratches, and whether you need to seek medical attention.
Risks associated with cat scratches
Even during seemingly harmless play with your feline companion, occasional cat scratches are inevitable. Johns Hopkins Medicine says that kittens under 1-year-old are even more prone to scratching — you may notice more incidents during play and laptime snuggles as your younger cat is getting used to their movements.
Regardless of age, cat scratches can mean more than just pain and temporary red or discolored marks. These wounds can sometimes sting, bleed, and even become infected.
Both feral and domesticated cats may also transmit certain viruses and bacteria when they scratch human skin. Some of the possible health complications include:
How to treat cat scratches at home
First, you should always wash any cat scratch with soap and warm water. Follow this rule for all scratches, even if it’s your own cat. Pat the area of skin dry with a clean towel.
If your scratch is bleeding, apply gentle pressure with a clean gauze pad. You may also choose to apply a small amount of over-the-counter antibiotic ointment before covering with a sterile bandage.
Monitor the scratch carefully over the next few days for symptoms of infection, such as:
- increased swelling
- pus or drainage
- red or discolored streaks emitting from the original scratch
- flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, and chills
Call a doctor if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms. You should also seek treatment if you’ve recently been scratched, bitten, or have had an open wound licked by a cat that isn’t your own.
Treating eye scratches
Sometimes a cat may accidentally scratch your face, including your eye area. If this happens, you should immediately rinse out the affected eye with either clean water or saline solution. Be careful not to rub your eyes in case there’s any object stuck, such as particles from your cat’s claws.
Next, you should call your doctor so they can thoroughly examine your eye for possible damage. They may also prescribe medications if your eye scratch becomes infected.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology says that eye scratches tend to heal quickly. However, if left untreated, they may cause:
- eye pain
- excessive tears
- light sensitivity
- blurry vision
Cat-scratch fever refers to a bacterial infection caused by Bartonella henselae. Felines may carry the bacterium in their saliva. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that up to 40 percent of cats will carry this bacterium at some point, but most don’t show any symptoms.
Originally, cats may get this bacterium from fleas. Cats can spread the bacterium to each other during cat fights. Then, the bacterium may then be transmitted to humans via the affected cat scratching, biting, or licking an open wound.
Symptoms of cat-scratch fever
If you have cat-scratch fever, the CDC says you may notice the following symptoms within 3 to 14 days of the initial incident:
- scratches or bites that increasingly become redder or discolored and more swollen
- fever, aches, and other flu-like symptoms
- body rashes
- swollen lymph nodes
- excessive fatigue and weakness
Treatment for cat-scratch fever
Cat-scratch fever may be treated with antibiotics as well as at-home wound care to help clear up your symptoms and prevent possible complications.
It is important to know that some of the symptoms of cat-scratch fever are similar to those caused by other infections. This includes tetanus, which is caused by the Clostridium tetani bacterium.
It’s important to call a doctor if you’re presenting with any symptoms of an infection so you may be treated properly. Your risk for developing cat-scratch fever may also be higher if you’ve been around a cat infested with fleas.
The CDC says that complications from cat-scratch fever are more likely if you’re under 14 years old or have a weakened immune system. While rare, such possibilities include:
- brain injury
- other internal organ damage
- bacillary angiomatosis, a progressive skin disorder that causes red or discolored, raised lesions that have scaly outer rings
- red, irritated eyes along with flu-like symptoms
Rabies is a serious viral infection that develops as a result of being bitten by an infected animal. While not common in domesticated cats in the United States, cases of rabies are reported in felines more than in other household pets.
An infected cat may present sudden behavioral changes, including unusual aggression. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, loss of muscle control, and paralysis.
Rabid cats are more likely to transmit the virus to humans through their saliva via biting. However, there’s still a lesser possibility that an infected cat can transmit the virus through scratches. Initial symptoms in humans mimic those of the flu, and these may develop up to weeks or months later, according to the CDC.
If you suspect that you’ve had any interactions with a rabid cat, you should seek emergency treatment — even if this fatal disease hasn’t caused any symptoms. Quick care with rabies antibodies and vaccination can help prevent life-threatening complications.
How to prevent risks associated with cat scratches
You can help minimize health risks from getting cat scratches by:
- washing and caring for any accidental wounds during all types of interactions
- avoiding rough play, particularly with kittens who are more prone to scratching
- keeping your face away from your cat during playtime to prevent eye injuries
- covering any open wounds you have, so that your cat can’t lick them
- creating an indoor-only environment for your cat
- taking care with feral cats, or other felines that aren’t your own
- keeping your cat up to date on their vaccines, such as rabies shots
- staying up to date on your own vaccines, including tetanus boosters
- making sure your cat is adequately treated for fleas, as recommended by your vet
Occasional scratches may seem like a natural part of being a cat lover, but you should always take care to wash any accidental wounds you may get after playing with your fur babies. Since some cases may turn into infections, it’s important to be aware of suspicious symptoms and to contact a doctor right away.
While it can be difficult to avoid cat scratches entirely when you have a playful feline in your home, there are certain measures you can take to help prevent complications. These include proper cleaning, avoiding feral animals, and keeping up with recommended vaccines.
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