Cat Scratch Disease And Cat Scratches

Cat scratch disease is pretty rare in healthy people. However, it will sometimes develop if a person has a weakened immune system, or if the scratch is deep.

The information on this page isn't medical advice. If you have any concerns after being scratched by a cat, please seek qualified medical advice immediately.

Cat Scratch Disease

1) What is it?

picture of cat showing cat claw

It's an infection caused by a bacterium that's carried in the cat's saliva (and transmitted to the cat's claws when he washes himself). Therefore, it can also be transmitted by a cat bite, or by a cat licking a wound on your skin.

For further information on cat bites, click here.

2) Symptoms

A few days after the scratch or bite, a small bump or blister usually appears by the wound. It generally isn't painful, and is often mistaken for an insect bite. This is the site from which the bacteria enter the body. A week or two later, the lymph nodes nearest the scratch site swell up, because the infection has spread to them. Other symptoms at this stage may include:

  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sore throat
  • High temperature

3) Treatment

The disease often goes away on its own. In most healthy people, their immune system will effectively deal with it. Over-the-counter medication may help to relieve the fever and pain in the lymph nodes. Antibiotics may be prescribed in more serious cases. If you have any concerns, please consult your doctor.

Treating Cat Scratches

To reduce the risk of infection, the wound should be cleaned as soon as possible, using clean water and soap. This should be done even for very small scratches.

picture of cute tortie cat face There's some controversy as to whether you should apply an antiseptic cream or hydrogen peroxide following cleaning with soap and water; there is some concern that these substances may damage skin tissue and actually impede the healing process. Your doctor can advise you further.

After cleaning, cover the wound with a non-stick, sterile dressing material. If you have any concerns about the wound, seek medical advice as soon as possible.

I worked in a cat rescue center for three years, and during that time was scratched literally hundreds of times. All I've ever done is clean my skin with soap and water, and applied a band aid or non-stick dressing to the bigger wounds. I've never got an infection or suffered any long-term problems from cat scratches.

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