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Scratched By a Cat? Here’s What To Do

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Scratched by your cat? Don’t panic! Even the sweetest cats bring out those claws at times.

That said, cat scratches should not be taken lightly as improper treatment can lead to serious infections, like the dreaded cat scratch fever. That’s why it’s important to know the right steps to take immediately after getting scratched by a cat.

What are the fastest ways to heal a cat scratch? This guide is here to answer all of your questions and provide you with the best cat scratch treatment.

Keep reading to learn more.

Cat Scratch Treatment

Treatment for your cat’s scratch should begin at home, immediately after your cat strikes. Any hesitation could increase your chances of developing a bacterial infection.

Start by gently washing the area of the scratch with natural soap and warm water. Be careful not to abrasively scrub the scratch as this could further irritate the wound. The area should be rinsed thoroughly after washing.

If the cat scratch is continuing to bleed, apply pressure to the area with bandages or a cloth. Finally, you should use a good antibiotic cream like Neosporin or Curoxen First Aid Ointment. Baking soda may also help with the annoying itching caused by a cat scratch.

Should cat scratches always be treated at home? It depends. For example, if your scratch is on a delicate area like your cornea, avoid any at-home treatments and go to your doctor as soon as possible.

Likewise, if your scratch is from a stray or feral cat, you should seek medical attention immediately as these cats may not be vaccinated against harmful and sometimes deadly diseases. In this case, a doctor may provide you with an injection to prevent infection, or hook you up to intravenous fluid.

Some cats may try to lick your wounds when you are injured. While this may seem like a sweet apology from your feline, avoid it at all costs. Cats carry harmful bacteria in their saliva and this only increases the likelihood of infection.

Cat appearing through a white background and scratch marks

Cat Scratch Infection Symptoms

After you’ve cleaned the wound of your cat scratch and everything seems to be under control, do you still have to worry about infection? According to Healthline, “Animal bites that don’t break your skin, as well as scratches that just graze the surface of your skin, have a minimal risk of infection.”

While it is standard for your cat scratch to heal on its own without any complications, if you notice any of the following concerning cat scratch symptoms of infection, you should seek medical attention at once.

Cat Scratch Disease Symptoms

The first and most common bacterial infection caused by cat scratches is cat scratch disease (CSD), also known as cat scratch fever. This comes from cats that are carrying the Bartonella henselae bacteria. WebMD states “About 40% of cats and kittens carry Bartonella henselae in their mouths or under their claws.” Most cats catch this bacteria after contact with infected fleas or other cats.

If you believe you are infected with CSD, one of the first signs to look out for is a red, crusty, or pus-filled bump or inflammation near the scratch. This cat scratch swelling typically occurs a few days after the initial scratch. If you aren’t sure, it may help to Google cat scratch disease pictures to see if they bear any resemblance to your wound.

Within two weeks following the scratch, you may develop a low-grade or high-grade fever, fatigue, overall lethargy, decrease in appetite, and/or headaches.

However, one of the most tell-tale signs you will want to look out for are swollen lymph nodes. While this may be common with most illnesses, with cat scratch disease your lymph nodes may swell or develop pus near the area of the scratch like under your arms.

Now for the serious question: Can a cat scratch kill you? According to PubMed, “Cat-scratch disease resulting from Bartonella henselae infection is usually a benign, self-limited process in immunocompetent children. Even the rare cases associated with neurologic manifestations are not generally fatal.”

In rare cases, cat scratch disease can affect vital parts of your body like your brain, eyes, heart, and lungs which could be deadly. So, even though the disease is generally not fatal, preventing or treating the disease right away is key to avoiding more harmful outcomes.

White cat laying near scratching post

Cat Scratch Disease Diagnosis and Treatment

If you suspect that you have cat scratch disease, the only way to find out is to receive a confirmed diagnosis from your doctor. Usually, they will be able to know by your visual symptoms, but will likely confirm by running a blood test or taking a sample from your infected lymph node.

In most cases, CSD will almost always go away on its own. Doctors often recommend over-the-counter medications like Motrin or Aleve to bring down inflammation and ease any pain or swelling.

Sometimes, a doctor will prescribe a round of antibiotics. This is usually the case if your cat scratch symptoms are severe or if your symptoms have been lingering for over two months. News Medical Life Sciences states, “Studies have shown that the antibiotics are most effective in severe cases,” and they recommend antibiotics such as rifampicin, ciprofloxacin, gentamicin, and trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole.

Those prescribed antibiotics for CSD will likely be told to take these antibiotics for consecutive months to prevent the infection from spreading.

a scratched human hand with cat in the background

Cat Scratch Rabies Symptoms

Cat scratch disease isn’t the only disease you can catch from the scratch of a cat. In rare, severe cases, a cat scratch could infect you with rabies.

While rabies is more likely to spread through the bite of a rabid animal, rabid cats may transfer the virus to their claws when they lick their paws. If a rabid cat scratches you with their infected claws, the virus could enter your skin.

Surprisingly, rabies symptoms are very mild at first and you may not even know you have it before it is too late. In stage one of rabies, you may develop a mild fever, lethargy, low appetite, vomiting, nausea, or a headache. The wound may also be slightly itchy, numb, or inflamed.

Stage two of rabies is where things start to become more serious. This occurs about two months after carrying the disease. At this point, you may develop severe agitation and irritability, disorientation or confusion, difficulty swallowing, or foaming at the mouth. This is soon followed by paralysis and eventually coma or death.

By the time you reach stage two, treatment is nearly impossible. In fact, according to the CDC, “Less than 20 cases of human survival from clinical rabies have been documented.”

As scary as this information may sound, it is extremely rare for humans to catch rabies and the CDC confirms that only one to three human cases are reported a year in the United States.

Though if you do get scratched by a cat in the wild, you should call your healthcare provider immediately, especially if the cat displays any physical symptoms of rabies such as aggression or hypersalivation.

Cat looking upward and scratching a scratching post

Cat Scratch Rabies Diagnosis and Treatment

A healthcare provider will be able to confirm a rabies diagnosis in both animals and humans. When contacting your health care provider, they may also suggest calling animal control to capture the cat to confirm if it is carrying a disease like rabies, which could help your treatment going forward.

To confirm a rabies diagnosis, your doctor will administer saliva tests to see if you are carrying the rabies virus. They may also test your spinal fluid, perform a blood test, or perform a skin biopsy on the neck to pick up any rabies antigens.

Doctors will first provide you with a vaccine called rabies immune globulin, administered near the wound. The point of this vaccine is to prevent the virus from attacking you after exposure. The doctors will also provide you with a series of rabies vaccines over 14 days which will give you immunity to any exposure you may have come in contact with. Sadly, there is no actual treatment for rabies once you start developing symptoms. However, the vaccine can protect you from developing rabies if given quickly after the initial exposure.

If you are someone who is around animals frequently, it may be in your best interest to receive annual rabies shots. Immunize.org states that “A booster dose as often as every 6 months to 2 years may be required for persons at highest risk for exposure to rabies viruses, such as persons who work with rabies virus in research laboratories or vaccine production facilities, veterinarians and staff, and animal control and wildlife officers.”

While rabies from cat scratches is rare, it doesn’t hurt to have the extra protection these vaccines provide.

Cat claws in foreground with cat in background

Preventing Cat Scratches

Whether your cat scratch becomes infected or not, most people agree that cat scratches aren’t fun. These scratches are itchy, painful, and not the most visually appealing. The best way to prevent conditions like CSD or cat scratch rabies is to prevent cat scratches altogether.

Here are some ways you can prevent your feline or a stray or feral cat from scratching:

Do Not Rough Play

While dogs may be used to more hyper, fast-paced playtime, cats can easily become overstimulated. Think about those times when your feline is rolling over onto its stomach for pets and cuddles and then all of a sudden attacks your hand and arm.

Avoid rough play with your cat. Even if they seem that they like it at first, you will lessen your chances of getting scratched.

Use Toys and Not Your Fingers or Arms

This is one of the biggest mistakes cat owners make with their felines — often when they are in the kitten stage. Do not use your fingers or arms as a toy. Doing this will encourage your cat to become aggressive and they may react by biting or scratching.

Regularly Trim Your Cat’s Nails

One of the best ways to prevent a painful cat scratch is to keep your cat’s nails trimmed. For optimal results, it is best to trim them every two to three weeks, especially if your cat is an adult.

The less sharp your cat’s nails are, the less severe a scratch will be. This will also prevent your cat from scratching your furniture and carpet.

Catch scratching a couch arm

Give Them a Scratching Post

It is naturally part of your cat’s instinct to scratch. Scratching is part of a cat’s territorial instincts and it is also a self-grooming strategy.

That’s why one of the most effective ways to allow them to scratch is by providing them with a scratching post. These can be purchased at pretty much any local pet store.

By giving them another outlet upon which to scratch, cats are less likely to dig their claws into you.

Yell “Ow!” or “Ouch!”

This may seem silly, but vocalizing your pain or discomfort is an effective method to set boundaries when your cat tries to scratch or bite you. Exclaiming a phrase like “Ow,” “Ouch,” or “No!” will slightly startle your cat, but ultimately make them avoid the behavior.

Cats can sense you mean business by your tone, and they will learn to associate their behavior with what you say AND the way you say it.

Redirect Your Cat’s Attention

If your cat seems hostile or aggressive, another great method is to redirect its attention. You may distract them with their favorite toy, a treat, or maybe playing bird videos on YouTube — whatever calms them down.

Catnip may work in some cases, but it can also make your cat more overstimulated, so be mindful as to how your cat usually reacts.

All About Cat Scratches

This guide discusses the best cat scratch treatment and the preventative measures you should take if scratched by a cat. Cat scratches are usually treatable and will go away on their own, but conditions like cat scratch disease or rabies are possible.

Therefore, you will want to do whatever you can to prevent cat scratches and avoid these scenarios from happening in the first place.

If you found this article helpful, be sure to share it with your family and friends today!