Taking That Cat Bite Seriously!

By Deb Haines

Many people think that because cats are so small compared to humans that they can’t do us any real harm. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Cats have so many weapons for their size – they come equipped with 18 claws and 30 teeth!

Are Cat bites Dangerous?

Cat 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.

There are a wide variety of bacteria found in the mouths of cats and quite often the claws also.

A particularly common type of bacteria found in cats’ mouths are anaerobes – which are bacteria that survive best in habitats not exposed to the air. Mouth bacteria, such as Pasteurella or Bacteroides species, are inoculated under the victim’s skin and into the fat and muscle lying beneath. While the cat bite on the surface may look minor at first, due to the bacteria they carry, it can lead to severe infections if not treated early.

The cat’s canine (fang) teeth are long and fairly narrow so they can bite quickly and deeply. The surface skin wound closes very quickly, entrapping the anaerobic bacteria away from the air, which are the exact conditions these anaerobes thrive in. Very soon the area swells with infection (cellulitis) and can form a nasty abscess or even a blood infection (septicaemia).

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.

Looking In The Mouth Of A Cat

Let’s Take A Look At Some Cat Bites To Humans

What Causes the Increased Risk of Infection?

Like all oral cavities, the mouth and teeth of a cat harbor bacteria. When a sharp tooth punctures the skin, bacteria are transported to that area. Since puncture wounds heal rapidly—within 24 hours—the bacteria from the oral cavity can get trapped under the skin. The bacteria then multiplies and creates an infection. The infection is closed off because the puncture wound has healed over, so the infection invades the body and develops into an infectious abscess or a closed pocket.

Stray Cats

Rabies virus can be excreted in the saliva of infected cats during illness and/or for a few days before illness or death. A healthy cat that bites a person should be confined and observed daily for 10 days. Confinement should be performed in coordination with public health authorities. To avoid mistaking the signs of rabies for possible side effects of vaccination, administration of rabies vaccine to the animal is not recommended during the observation period.If the confined animal develops any signs of illness, it should be evaluated by a veterinarian. Any illness in the animal should be reported immediately to the local health department. If the animal develops signs suggestive of rabies, it should be euthanized by an animal health professional and the head submitted to a diagnostic laboratory for testing.Any stray or unwanted cat that bites a person may be euthanized immediately by an animal health professional and the head should be submitted for rabies testing.
Questions And Answers From The PVC Vets

  1. Are cat bites like dog bites and routinely get antibiotics prophylactically?

Dr. Anamana Cr ……Cat bites are notorious for hoarding more bacteria than dog bites.
Lots of dog bite wounds don’t even get prophy abx from human hospitals.
Cat bites always do.

Dr. Lloyd …. Cat bites are actually way MORE serious than dog bites, especially over the joints on the fingers and wrists. I hope by the time you see this you have gone to the ER for antibiotics. Bites like these can infect the joint and tendon sheaths leading to surgery and loss of function.

2. Do all cat bites get infected?

Dr. Sarah Greenway …. Not all of them get infected but the ones that do are so bad that IV antibiotics and surgical decompression and sometimes removal are indicated. See urgent care for antibiotics (and antifungals if you are prone to yeast infections with strong abx like I am)

There are reports such as this where humans have waited to seek treatment from their doctors. Do not wait to get treatment with cat bites or scratches.

Your cat is bitten by another cat

Reminder … PVC cannot stress enough the importance of having your cat evaluated if they have been bitten by another cat. Since this is such a common injury in cats, all cat owners should know why cat bite wounds need to be treated by your veterinarian and the importance of systemic antibiotics for cat bite wound treatment.

What Do I Need to Look for to Assess for Injures to My Cat?

Many times, cat bite wounds and trauma can be found by simply looking at your cat. You may see obvious, open puncture wounds on the skin, or you may see localized areas of fur that appear wet or matted. If you notice areas of the fur that are wet or matted, part the fur and check the skin for open wounds or scabs. Check common locations such as the head, rear limbs and base of the tail.

Puncture wounds heal very quickly, and many times you may not see anything, especially a few days after a cat fight. Often, small puncture wounds quickly scab over and develop an infection and swelling under the skin, known as an abscess. The common clinical signs associated with cat bite wounds and abscesses are:

  • Swelling under the skin that can be warm to the touch and is usually painful
  • Limping
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Excessive grooming of the affected area

With infections that are not treated, a more serious disease can result. The following are some more serious complications caused by an untreated cat bite wound:

  • Lethargy and fever
  • Cellulitis (a bacterial infection of the tissue beneath the skin)
  • In very rare circumstances, septic arthritis , osteomyelitis or an infection of the joint or bone can occur

Have your cat evaluated by your veterinarian immediately if they are in a cat fight.

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