Cat bites: a little injury that can lead to big problems

I will continue my posts on winter tips for feral cats next week, promise. Today I want to write about cat bites. I cannot begin to explain to you just how awful cat bites are. If you have ever been bitten by a cat you know just how painful and dangerous cat bites can be. I was bitten by a very angry and very wet Main Coon cat on Thursday (he didn’t like being groomed). It certainly wasn’t my first cat bite, nor will it be the last bite I get. It is so important to seek medical care immediately if you get a cat bite. Even with proper care and cleaning your bite can become infected. My poor co-worker, who was also bitten by said angry cat, cleaned her wound properly and still wound up spending her day at the doctor’s office because her thumb had swollen to twice its size and was oozing pus. Not fun. I was lucky that my infection was not bad. My finger was swollen, slightly red at the puncture sights and very sore. I called the doctor and ended up on anti-biotics, which is the usual course of action for cat bites. I am up to date on my tetanus shot, having gotten that back in 2009 after a previous cat bite (hey, it’s an occupational hazard of being a cat lady).

Want some non-medical professional advice on what do to for a cat bite from someone who has dealt with a number of them? First thing is always scrub the wound like there is no tomorrow. The puncture itself will be small, which is the danger; more on that later. Scrub the wound with hydrogen peroxide or iodine. Get a brush if at all possible, if not then try to soak the wound in it as much as possible to kill as much bacteria as possible. We didn’t have anything to really scrub with at work, so I soaked a paper towel in hydrogen peroxide and wrapped my fingers in that. When I got home from work I soaked my fingers in a bowl of hot water. This really does help draw out any infection.

Cat bites are so dangerous because their teeth are thin and long like needles. Because of this they bring in the bacteria from the cats mouth as well any bacteria on the skin. (This is also why cat bites are more likely to lead to infection than dog bites, even though dog bites cause more immediate damage). There is one particularly nasty bacteria Pasteurella multocida that causes quite a few infections. With all that bacteria it is no surprise that there is such a high chance for cat bites to become infected. Since wounds are so small it is easy for the skin to knit back together before the infection has drained. If you see any swelling, redness, stiffness, or puss call the doctor immediately. If you see any red streaks, or swelling of lymph nodes or notice a fever go to the ER right away, this could be a sign your infection is spreading to other tissues or you are developing Cat Scratch Fever.

Don’t believe me on how bad cat bites can be? Read what happened to one Gizmodo writer after her cat playfully bit her on the back of the hand.  And check out this article on cat bites to humans from VCA Animal Hospitals.

Do you have a cat bite story? Did your furry little one dig his chompers into your hand during play? A scared kitten react while you were socializing him? I would love to swap battle stories, I have lots of my own!


11 thoughts on “Cat bites: a little injury that can lead to big problems

  1. Connie says:

    I have had a couple.. none horribly bad. I was told to bleed the wound first. “Milk’ it if you have to and get as much of your blood out of you as you feel comfortable.. (we are talking less than a cc here, not bleeding you dry) and then wash. You want to get the saliva out, and the only way to do that is to get the bodily fluids that they are in out..

    and may I suggest you invest in a whole range of cat muzzles 🙂 I love mine but can’t find it when I need it.. I so need to get a couple more (like I need to buy a few more pairs of claw clippers too, cause despite having at least 10 pair in the house, ask me if I can ever find one when I have a cat with long claws in my arms)

    • Katie says:

      Connie, you are absolutely right, thanks for the reminder. Absolutely let it bleed (without bleeding yourself dry of course.) The body knows how to care for itself (usually). I think I was always told to wash it and then let it bleed, but either way, let it bleed itself clean. That might be why mine have never gotten infected, I bleed!!

  2. Kathy says:

    I run a rescue and sanctuary for cats. I have had about 5-6 cat bites that have all put me in the hospital with cellulitis. It literally only takes hours before the hand is swollen and red and running up the arm. I have to go on 2 different IV antibiotics and major pain meds in the hospital to get rid of the cellulitis. Each time, I was in the hospital for at least 3-4 days. Now, I have autoimmune diseases, so I tried this little trick one time to see if it would work. Immediately after the bite, I squeezed the entire area around it (yes, it hurts a bit) and kept doing that until I felt I might have done some good. Then I washed with antibacterial soap and used triple antibiotic ointment with a Band-Aid. Guess what? It worked. The last two cat bites I received – no infections. Now, it does not always work. Recently, a friend of mine was helping me to Frontline 36 cats. The very last one was a somewhat feral cat yet. She was bit in the hand down to the bone also. I did this trick on her. A few hours later, she called stating she had to go to ER. The next day, she was in the hospital with cellulitis. She was in for 5 days. But, then she had to also have surgery for some tendon damage and now has physical therapy, but it looks like it will heal. Once you get cellulitis, you can and will get it again. The reason a cat bite is so bad isn’t just what you have stated, but the top of a cat’s canines have this little “pocket” that holds in old food, and bacteria galore. So, hopefully, with this tip, we will save someone a hospital visit.

    • Katie says:

      I have done that trick with squeezing the spot around the bite a few times and it has worked wonderfully. I have also soaked in hot water then squeezed. Of course it is not a 100% guarantee that your bite won’t get infected, but it certainly helps!

  3. tomboy17 says:

    Today i was bitten by the stray cat that my family and i feed.So i goggled to see if cat bites are dangerous or not , then i got confused.

    I was confused because the term “love bite” because the cat didn’t do out of her way to bite me nor was i injured , i think she just wanted to be petted.And i never did hurt her.

    And if you wanted to visualize what happened , here is what happened ” i was standing in the balcony when she came to me wanted to be petted but i don’t like touching her and then she was circling me and hitting her head on my leg and then she bit me , i definitely
    decontaminated the place of the bite when i got inside , so here is what happened, can you find an explanation.

    • Katie says:

      If you don’t want to go to the doctor right away, keep an eye on the bite. If it gets swollen, red or starts to puss, get to an emergency room right away. Cat bites can get infect really fast.

      When I talked about a “love bite” I was referring to something my cats so sometimes when they maybe gently hold my finger in their mouth or bite at me but don’t actually have any intentions of hurting. It’s like when kittens are playing; they bite each other but not hard enough to hurt. Sometimes even a play bite can turn serious for us though, since human skin is so much softer than cat skin. If the cat bite broke your skin, even a little, go to the doctor!

  4. Mike says:

    Thank you for being more level headed and actually giving good advice then most websites. My cat got skunked. I put him in the bathtub and poured tomato juice on his head, (his eyes got sprayed) while holding the scruff of his neck and he bit me quite badly on both arms. Each spot had one deep puncture and one deep scratch. It hurt so badly I felt light headed. I immediately washed the wounds and poured hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol over them, ran them under water for 5 minutes and let them bleed and then smeared them with antibiotic cream. I also had some antibiotics on hand and have started a 6 day course of those. It has been 3 hours now and the wounds are oozing but there is no redness at all around the marks. I do not have any health insurance and an emergency visit can cost you up to 1k.
    (thank you Obamacare for disallowing my insurance plan I had for 20 years).
    I know many people like me who cannot afford to go to the emergency room for something like this. Thank goodness for the internet. If I see any red streaks, or pus, I will go to my doctor instead, which only costs me 95.00 for a visit.

  5. Lindsey Mortensen says:

    So the other day, I went with my sister in law to take her cat to the vet. He was very nervous and was lashing out at everyone he came in contact with. After the appointment, I was carrying the cat to the car while my sister in law was filling out paperwork. He was still pissed and nervous and right before I put him in the car, he freaked out and bit me on my hand. Of course it hurt, but im used to being bit by cats since I had recently adopted one. I thought nothing of it, until I noticed it was bleeding. I just left it alone and continued to go about my night. I got home about 3 hours later, after running some errands and noticed the cat bite was swollen and my hand was in a lot of pain. I washed my hands, and cleaned it with alcohol and put a bandage on it.
    The next day, I noticed that my hand was in a lot of pain and I couldnt even pick up a soda can. Although there was swelling, redness and tenderness, it wasnt bad enough for me to be too concerned. Me being who I am, I went on google and searched up cat bites. My mistake. I freaked out, and had a mini panic attack. I told my fiance about it, and he helped me clean it really good, put some ointment on and put a bandaid on it. Im the type of person that wont go to the doctor unless I absolutely think I have to.
    Its been 3 or 4 days now, and after keeping up on cleaning it, the swelling is barely noticable. My hand is still tender, but its barable.
    This morning I noticed that the spot around the actual wound and anywhere the bandaid touched was burning. I am allergic to adhesive bandages and im sure thats what it is. But also the puncture wound looks like it has a little bit of a pus like fluid coming out of it.
    My sister in law gave me some antibiotics to take.
    Would you suggest I go tto the doctor, or just keep taking these meds and keep an eye on it?

    • Kat says:

      It sounds like it is healing. The fact that the swelling has gone down is a good sign. The pus coming out of it, eh. That suggests infection. I would suggest a trip to the doctor just to make sure the infection heals properly and doesn’t get worse. Best luck!

  6. Donna Moore says:

    okay I’m there with the best of u .

    I rescue and have a bully! He was picking on my Rosco but this time he was pinned.. 2am I couldn’t believe Frankie his behavior but never knew what was to come..
    I went to rescue Roscoe and Frankie was trying to harm him with full bites he lunges bites me 3 times in different angles… I threw Roscoe out window and slammed it so Frankie couldn’t follow..

    I was bleeding every where my hand was so large my nails hurt… I washed and apply pressure it stopped bleeding pretty fast but deep bites… .. I spend my money trap and release, feeding stations and my love for these felines..
    I can’t afford doctor and I don’t want to die…

    for 2 days I had no use of my hand but soaked it in salt water, peroxide and triple antibacterial gel.

    this is third I’ve been sick headache, fevers, coughing, like the flue… I am feeling better . my hand I can now use it ! still have swelling and reddish hand, yes it dose discharge little reddish pus and red around the bite.

    but no blistering or additional pain..

    Feeling a little positive, but one of the bacterial germs can cause Pneumonia… The symptoms
    I’m having are very close… I wasn’t feeling that hot before the bites.. Has anyone been physical sick the very next day with flu like symptoms… I just can’t imagine it would be at least 48 hours for a bite to influence this…
    Or am I a hopeful cat lover…

    • Kat says:

      I am sorry it took so long for me to respond to your comment. I hope you are feeling better, and I really hope you went to see a doctor. It sounds like you had a really bad cat bite and a really bad infection.

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