Most cat owners from one time or another will encounter a cat scratch or two. The majority of these will heal within a few days, and there will be no more thought given to it. But the young daughter of a friend recently spent several days in hospital undergoing a battery of tests; the diagnosis was cat scratch disease.
We have already covered this topic in another article, but I thought it was a good idea to raise the issue of cat scratches and how their treatment.
Scratch transmitted diseases
- Cat scratch disease (children and immunocompromised people are at higher risk, but anybody can become infected)
- Localised infection
- Plague (in certain countries)
Avoiding scratches in the first place is your first line of defence. Breaking up cat fights and playing rough with your cat are the two most common causes of cat scratches. Firstly cat fights when they occur the cats are extremely agitated and wound up. The pet owner rushes in to break it up and gets a nasty scratch (or bite) for their troubles. If you come across a cat fight, you should never use yourself to break it up. You WILL get hurt. Either throw a towel over the cats or use a broom and gently pry them apart. Remember too, even though you may have successfully split them up, they will still be extremely wound up. Do not try to calm your cat(s) down by stroking them; they are likely to strike out. Give them a little time to calm down.
Playing rough is another way to get scratched. Just don’t do it. A cat scratch may not be all that painful when it happens, but it’s not worth the risk.
Bathing a cat:
Most cats don’t like water, but sometimes you may need to give your cat a bath (I never have, but I’m sure situations occur such as poisons on the fur etc.). If you must give your cat a bath use caution. Have a second person to help where possible. Wear a long-sleeved top and long rubber gloves, wear long pants. Be careful with your face; try not to get it too close to your cat.
Be extremely careful handling a sick or injured cat:
They may usually be docile, but when they’re hurt, they don’t always know what they are doing and may lash out. Get a second person to help you and wrap in a towel if necessary.
The skin is our first line of defence; any break in it allows bacteria and other nasties to enter the body. Avoiding scratches, therefore, is the best way to reduce your chances of developing an infection. You should also never let a cat lick you, especially if you have cuts or chapped skin.
How to treat a cat scratch
Even if you only receive a small scratch, it is vital you treat it immediately.
- Stop any bleeding by applying pressure to the wound.
- Wash it well with antibacterial soap and warm water. Pat dry.
- Apply disinfectant such as betadine.
- Apply a bandage if necessary.
Keep a close eye on it. Any sign of inflammation, redness, heat, pus, infection and go straight to your doctor.
Cat scratch disease
Thankfully this is still quite rare, but people can and do get sick from it. If you notice the following symptoms, go straight to your doctor.
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Redness or swelling to the area
- Skin lesions
- Flu-like symptoms (headache, sore joints, achiness, loss of appetite)
If you receive a bite or a scratch from a cat of unknown origin, seek medical attention immediately.
Make sure your tetanus booster is up to date. If you haven’t received a shot within the past 5 years and receive a scratch (or bite), see your doctor.