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Cat Scratches and Bites

How Harmful Can they Be?

Cat bites and scratches may not seem much at the time, but they should not be ignored as they can lead to serious and complicated infections. Around 5-20 people out of every 100 attending A&E every year have been bitten by a cat. It is recommended that you see a Healthcare professional if the bite breaks the skins as cat bites will almost always require antibiotics.

Cats harbour a large number of bacteria in their mouths and claws including Pasteurella, fusobacterium organisms, streptococcus species and bartonella hensalae (which can cause a condition called Cat Scratch Fever).

What is Cat Scratch Fever?

Bartonellosis is more commonly known as “Cat scratch fever” and is an infection that both cats and humans can contract.

It is caused by a bacterial infection which can be passed from cat to cat or cat to human. The most common cause of cat to human infection is by scratch or bite. In cats, it is usually contracted by contact with flea faeces which can be ingested via grooming.

While symptoms of the condition usually become apparent within 7-14 days after infection, it can take several weeks for the symptoms to become apparent.

Cat Symptoms

Can include:

  • A heavy infestation of fleas or ticks
  • Fever or swollen glands
  • Lethargy, loss of appetite and general depression
  • In many cases, the condition will not show any symptoms at all

Human Symptoms

Can include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Lymph node swelling near to the site of a cat scratch or bite
  • General sickness and feeling unwell
  • Muscle pain
  • Sickness and stomach cramps
  • Fatigue and generalised tiredness
  • Swelling and infection around the localised site of a scratch or bite
  • Lumps or papules developing around the site of a bite or scratch

The condition is not fatal and generally not hugely dangerous to people, but it can lead to complications and be potentially serious in those with a compromised immune system.

What to Do if You Get Bitten/Scratched By A Cat

Run the wound under lukewarm/cool water and clean the area with an antibacterial soap for a MINIMUM of five minutes

  • Whilst cleaning, flex and move the skin and muscle to ensure that the soap can reach the deeper parts of the punctures and to encourage the tissue to bleed
  • Pat the area dry with some kitchen roll or towel.
  • If the area is deep, cover with a lint free dressing
  • Seek Medical Advice from your GP or A&E Department

Is It Infected?

Keep a close eye on your wound/s, and monitor for the following:

  • Redness and Swelling appears around the wound – if this happens, mark the outer edge with a biro or marker, so that you can see if the redness if spreading over time.
  • Wound feels warm
  • Throbbing
  • Increased pain
  • Liquid, pus or discharge seeps from wound
  • Sweats, fever or chills
  • Temperature over 38 Celsius
  • Swollen glands in neck, armpits or groin


  • Generally, treatment of cat scratch fever for humans involves thorough cleaning and disinfecting of the affected site, and if the nodules present are swollen and pussy, aspirating the nodules to remove the pus and promote healing. Bed rest is often recommended to allow the body the best chance of healing, and in some cases, antimicrobial therapy or antibiotics may be prescribed too. 
  • In cats, the condition usually resolves itself quickly, and often, the owner is not even aware of the condition and the cat heals itself. If treatment is sought, thorough cleaning of any wound site, treatment for flea infestation if this is a problem, and possibly, antibiotics will also be used.
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