What You Should Do for a Cat Bite or Scratch

Act quickly to cut your infection risk
What You Should Do for a Cat Bite or Scratch

Cats. They can coil around you alluringly — but they also can scratch and bite. Their razor-sharp teeth can puncture deeply, sometimes penetrating tissues, ligaments and tendons.

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When a cat bites you, the clock starts to tick. “See a doctor within eight hours to cut your infection risk,” says Emergency medicine physician Stephen Sayles III, MD. “You may need intravenous antibiotics or, in some cases, you may even need to be hospitalized.”

Infections can be severe, particularly for people with diabetes or those who are immunocompromised. Their infection risk is even greater.

Infections cats can pass along

About 75 percent of cat bites will introduce staphylococcus, streptococcus or pasteurella bacteria into your body. Initial signs of infection show up within the first few hours, with hands, joints and tendons being at the greatest risk, Dr. Sayles says.

Also, people can contract cat scratch fever, also called cat scratch disease (CSD). This comes from cats infected with Bartonella henselae bacteria. A bite, scratch or even the saliva of an infected cat can pass it along.

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Here’s what to do if a cat bites you

First, you want to try to flush out as much bacteria as possible. To do this, press on the wound gently to cause some bleeding. The blood will help move the bacteria from the wound.

Next, wash the wound with mild soap and water. Slow the bleeding with a clean cloth and apply over-the counter antibiotic cream if you have it.

Then, wrap the wound in a sterile bandage. Keep the wound bandaged until you see your doctor.

After you see your doctor, change the bandage several times a day. Watch for signs of infection, including redness, swelling, increased pain and fever.

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How a doctor treats a cat wound

Cat wounds most often are left open to heal. This makes cleaning the wound easier for you and reduces infection risk, Dr. Sayles says.

Your doctor will likely do the following:

  • Clean the wound again and apply antibiotic ointment
  • Prescribe antibiotics, such as Augmentin, if there’s an infection concern
  • Give you a booster shot if your tetanus vaccine is out-of-date
  • Determine whether the wound needs stitches

Remember, it’s important to act quickly if you get a cat bite. See your doctor to help cut the risk for infection.

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