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Why Cats Bites Can Cause Serious Injury to Humans

by Elizabeth Arguelles June 27, 2014 at 1:00 pm 2 Comments

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This is a sponsored post by veterinarian Elizabeth Arguelles, owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza. She writes weekly on Reston Now.

Every cat lover, at one point or another, has dealt with kitty scratches or even the dreaded cat bite. While typically scratches aren’t cause for concern, cat bites are a different story. Even playful “love bites” can lead to serious infections when they break the skin, even when it’s your own cat. All bites, no matter the cat’s history or vaccination status require medical attention. So what is it that makes cat bites so serious?

Because cats have extremely sharp teeth, their bites penetrate the skin easily and cause small but deep wounds. The bites can even be so deep that they damage a victim’s nerves, tendons and bones. Additionally, these deep almost pin prick like wounds allow bacteria that is trapped in the cat’s mouth to travel to joints and tendons harboring infection.

Why happens if a cat bite is left untreated?

Infection rates are higher in bites left untreated. The surface lesion from a cat bite generally scabs over quickly, sealing bacteria from the cat’s mouth inside the wound, where it can multiply and lead to an infection. Depending on the location and depth of the bite, the bacteria may even spread to the surrounding tissue, resulting in a condition called cellulitis. And in some cases, the bacteria can spread through the blood to other areas of the body and cause septicemia or blood poisoning.

What are the first steps you need to take when a cat bites you?

You should wash out the wound under running water immediately. Don’t use strong disinfectants, as these may delay the healing process. A better way to sterilize the wound is by using a mild salt water solution made up of one teaspoon of salt and 500 ml of water.

If there is excessive bleeding after washing out the wound, apply direct pressure to it and seek immediate medical attention.

Infections caused by cat bites usually develop between 24 and 48 hours after the bite if it is left untreated. An infected bite will be red, swollen and painful. Minor infections will generally require a course of oral antibiotics, whereas more serious cases will be treated with an IV drip. Be especially cautious of bites near joints, especially in your fingers as these tend to swell more.

Regardless of the severity or consequences of the bite, make sure to call your general physician or visit the emergency room as soon as possible! Please don’t wait to call the doctor if you have been bitten by a cat!

What will happen to the cat?

In most states, the physician is required to report the cat bite to the local department of health. If the cat’s vaccinations are up-to-date, it might be placed under a home quarantine for a week. If its rabies vaccination is not current, the quarantine period will be even longer or may require additional precautions. Make sure to look up your state and local county’s laws regarding cat bites and quarantines for more specific information.

  • Debra J. Fidler

    my GP did none of this.. actually saw PA, clueless.

  • Melissa Silverman

    I was attacked by a friends house cat on mother’s day resulting in 4 puncture areas of 16 puncture wounds to my hands, wrists and fingers. I ended up in the hospital for 2 days with 3 types of severe bacterial infections from the bites along with cellulitis. Was put on heavy duty IV antibiotics and pills for 10+ days after being released from the hospital. Cat bites are not to be taken lightly. I have severe scarring and tendon issues even now, over a full month later. This “incident” cost me 5 workdays and already over $9,000 in medical bills and time off work. Don’t bother going to a GP, go straight to the hospital if this happens to you!

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