The bacterial infection spread by cats is known as cat scratch disease. The disease is spread when an infected cat licks an open wound, bites, or scratches a person.
Symptoms In Humans
Cat scratch disease can be transmitted to humans if any skin is broken. This means that you best seek medical help if a wild or feral cat has bitten, scratched or attacked you to the point of there being blood.
Common symptoms of cat scratch fever include:
- A blister at the bite site can also cause a lump
- Swollen lymph nodes near the site could also result in a fever!
- Appetite Loss
- A Headache
- A low-grade fever, 98.6°F (37°C) below 100.4°F (37°C).
- Body aches
- Sore throat.
The rare symptoms of fever are often linked to a more severe version of the disease.
These symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain.
- Joint pain.
- Prolonged fever.
If you have been infected, a bump or blister may develop on the skin at the site of infection within 3 to 10 days. However, symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes often only occur after several days or weeks.
Conditions mistaken for cat scratch fever include:
- Lymphogranuloma venereum
- Lyme disease
What to do if you’ve been Scratched
Wash the cat bite and/or scratch well with soap and warm water. Do not allow any cats to lick your wounds, as you can infect them if you have been infected. Contact your doctor immediately if you develop any symptoms of this disease or infection.
What Causes the Disease?
Bartonella henselae is the bacteria that causes cat-scratch disease. This bacteria is carried by about 40% of cats at some point in their lives. Most cats who have been infected show almost no signs of illness. The infection is more likely to be found in kittens younger than a year. They are also the most likely to spread the infection to humans. This is because kittens scratch and bite whilst playing as they’re learning how to “hunt” and “attack” prey.
Serious but rare complications
The disease can cause serious complications in humans. The eyes, brain, and other internal organs can be affected by this disease. These are infrequent complications. These complications may require intensive treatment and are more likely to occur in children 5-14 years of age as well as in people with weakened immune systems.
Most cats with the infection don’t show any signs of illness. It is possible for this disease to cause inflammation of the heart. This makes cats very sick and causes poor breathing. The infection may also develop in the mouth, urinary system, or eyes. Upon observation, your vet may find that some of your cat’s other organs are inflamed.
Preventing Cat Scratch Disease in People
- Wash cat bites and scratches with soap and warm water as soon as they occur.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water after you play with a cat, especially if you will be in close contact with young children or people with weakened immune systems.
- Kittens that are less than one year of age are more likely to have cat scratch disease; therefore, people with weakened immune systems should adopt older cats to be safe.
- Play rough with your pets – this could easily result in a scratch or bite.
- Tease or provoke your cat.
- Allow cats to lick your open wounds or lick around your mouth and nose.
- Pet or touch stray or feral cats.
Preventing Cat Scratch Disease in Cats
- Always keep your cat’s nails trimmed.
- Once a month, apply a flea product approved by your veterinarian.
- Check for fleas and inspect for flea dirt.
- Control fleas in your home, clean your couches, mop your floors, vacuum your carpets, and wipe off your counters every day.
Protecting your Cat’s Health
- Schedule routine check-ups at the vet.
- Keep your cat indoors.
- Don’t allow them to come in contact with animals that have fleas.
- Neuter or spay them to prevent them from getting into fights with stray or feral cats.
Tests and Treatments in People
Talk to your doctor about possible testing and treatments for cat scratch disease. People are only tested for cat scratch disease when the disease is severe, and the doctor suspects cat scratch disease based on the patient’s symptoms. Cat scratch disease is often left untreated in otherwise healthy people.
In most cases, cat scratch diseases won’t require any treatment. If you have pain or discomfort, an over-the-counter pain reliever could help. Applying something heated to the area might help as well. If you have large or painful lymph nodes, your doctor could opt to drain them to relieve pain. You may require antibiotics if your symptoms persist for a few months. Although rare, the infection could travel to your bones, liver or other organs. This would then require more intense treatment.
Questions You Can Ask Your Doctor
- My cat scratched me. Do I require a consultation?
- How will I know whether my cat carries the bacteria that causes cat-scratch disease?
- Should I get rid of my cat if my child has a weakened immune system?
The Last Scratch
Cat scratch disease can be transferred to humans from infected cats. Keep your cat indoors to prevent them from getting the disease. Cat scratch disease will often clear up by itself in humans, although it’s still advised to consult a doctor. The disease can only be transmitted if the skin has been broken.