VCA Animal Hospitals

Wounds – Cat Bite Injuries to Humans

Why do cat bites get infected so easily?

When a cat bites, its sharp canine teeth easily puncture the skin, leaving small, but deep, wounds in the skin.

"These punctures rapidly seal over, trapping bacteria from the cat's mouth under the skin of the victim."

These punctures rapidly seal over, trapping bacteria from the cat's mouth under the skin of the victim, where they can readily multiply. A similar type of injury happens with cat scratches - the extremely sharp, curved nails penetrate deep into the skin, essentially injecting bacteria deep into the puncture wound. Depending on the location and depth of the wound, the bacteria can spread in the surrounding tissues causing a condition called cellulitis.

Are cat bites dangerous?

wounds_-_cat_bite_injuries_to_humansCat bites can be dangerous both to other animals and to humans. In their mouths, all cats carry a large number of bacteria that are capable of causing tissue infections in bite wounds. One of the more common is highly pathogenic bacterium known as Pasteurella multocida. An infected cat bite wound will be red, swollen and painful, and the infection can spread through the surrounding tissues, causing a condition called cellulitis, or through the blood to other areas of the body, causing a condition called septicemia (often called "blood poisoning"). Infected people may suffer from fever and flu-like symptoms and, rarely, may die if proper medical treatment is not sought. Children, the elderly, ill and immunosuppressed individuals are particularly vulnerable to developing severe infections if bitten by a cat.

What immediate action should I take if bitten by a cat?

The wound should immediately be washed under running water. Avoid scrubbing the wounds vigorously, or using strong disinfectants or other chemicals, since this may harm tissue and delay wound healing. You may clean the wound with a mild salt solution, made by mixing 1 teaspoon (5 mls) of table salt in 2 cups (500 mls) of water. Control bleeding by applying direct pressure to the wound using an absorbent dressing or bandage.

You should see a physician as soon as possible. Most cat bite wounds are small punctures that drive pathogenic bacteria deep into the skin. Left untreated, a serious infection can develop within twenty-four to forty-eight hours.

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Do I really need to see a doctor?

Yes. It is advisable to see a physician as soon as possible in order to have the injury properly treated. Your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics in order to reduce the risk of infection developing at the site of the bite or elsewhere in the body. Some wounds may need to be sutured ("stitched") while others will be left open to heal. A tetanus booster may also be recommended.

Depending on the severity of the bite and the circumstances surrounding the bite, your doctor may also recommend that you receive a rabies prophylaxis treatment.

What will happen to the cat in this case?

In many jurisdictions, your physician will be required to file a report to the local department of health. If the cat's rabies vaccine status is known and is current, the cat will usually be placed under a short quarantine, ranging from 10-14 days. If the cat's rabies vaccination has lapsed, the quarantine will last longer.

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