a close up of a hand with a cat scratch and a white cats paw

My Cat Scratched Me Should I Be Worried?

Cats love playtime, and some of them get super involved in the fun. Unfortunately, they can get carried away, and that’s when they bring out the claws. If my cat scratched me, should I be worried? Well, yes. There is a chance you could get infected by cat-scratch disease.

Unlike dogs, cats’ claws are a part of their skeletal structure, it’s why they can extend and withdraw them at will. It’s also the reason why you should never clip a cat’s nails – imagine if someone started cutting off half your finger!

As predators, cats rely on their claws for seizing their prey and holding onto it. Therefore, your cat’s claws are always razor-sharp, and they can do serious damage if you get a bad scratch.

For the most, cats are fully aware of the damage their claws can do to your skin. When they’re playing around with you, they typically won’t extend them. If they do, it’s only lightly. It’s uncommon for a cat to go ballistic and start scratching you badly – but it happens.

Most of the time, your kitty didn’t mean it; they’re just overly excited about the situation. The problem is that a bad scratch can cause a severe infection that’s sometimes life-threatening.

You’ve probably heard about cat scratch disease, and yes, it’s a real thing.

a crouching tabby cat wide eyed with a raised paw about to attack an incoming hand

What Is Cat Scratch Disease and How Do I Get Infected?

Cat scratch disease is exactly what it sounds like; you get a disease after getting scratched by your cat.

That might seem surprising to many owners, especially since we all know the amount of grooming a cat does on a daily basis. How could your cat possibly be spreading disease?

Cat scratch disease is a bacterial infection spreading through scratches inflicted by cats. Some experts believe the disease may spread through bites as well.

However, there is no need for cat owners to start panicking about their feline friend being a harbinger of disease around the home.

According to the CDC, cat-scratch disease instances are rare, and they typically occur in people scratched by feral cats more than house cats.

However, cat owners need to know the signs of cat scratch disease and what to do if they start noticing any symptoms after receiving a scratch.

People who experience an infection with the bacteria causing cat scratch disease may end up in a life-threatening situation if they don’t get treatment in time.

Cat-scratch disease occurs due to infection with the bacterium (Bartonella henselae), spreading through the fleas feeding on cats. The fleas transfer the bacteria into cats, and the bacterium gets on your cat’s claws.

The bacterium may also get onto your cat’s teeth when they start biting at the fleas. When the bacteria coat the claws and teeth, it enters tissues and blood in humans through cat scratches.

The bacteria may also get into a previous unrelated wound if an infected cat starts liking the open wound.

Unlike humans infected with the disease, cats don’t seem to exhibit any symptoms. Despite the low transfer rate into humans, research shows up to 40% of adult cats get infected at some time in their lives.

The same studies also indicate that kittens are more likely to be carriers.

close up of a grey cats planted open paw with claws fully extended

If you experience an infection with the bacteria causing cat scratch disease, you’ll start showing symptoms around two weeks after the initial scratch.

Some of the early signs of cat scratch disease include the following;

Swelling around the scratch and raised, red skin around the scratch or bite site. Headaches, fever, and fatigue are also common in infected individuals.

Later in the infection, you’ll experience swelling in the lymph nodes near the scratch site. The lymph nodes also become sore to touch, and they may feel warm.

If you don’t seek medical attention, the infection can progress to your cardiovascular system, the brain, the nervous system, and the eyes.

Most adults will realize something is wrong long before the advanced stages of the disease set in.

Children under the age of 5-years are the most at risk of entering the advanced stages of infection. People with weak or compromised immune systems are also a high risk for cat scratch disease complications.

Severe infections in kids require immediate hospitalization and treatment. Adults with a mild case of CSD can recover at home with the assistance of antibiotics.

OTC medications like anti-inflammatories and painkillers may help mitigate the other symptoms of CSD.

Cat Scratch Disease and the Statistics

According to the CDC’s research, cat scratch disease costs the U.S $9.7-million in treatments per year. That’s a significant amount of taxpayer money going to treating this “rare” disorder. Here are the official statistics on CSD laid out by the CDC in the report findings.

The CDC researchers estimate that the annual direct medical cost to the U.S. for treating cases of cat scratch disease is $9.7 million.

  • The highest risk groups for CSD are kids between 5 to 9-years and women between 60 to 64-years.
  • Women account for 56% of all hospitalized cases and 62% of outpatient cases.
  • The highest infection rates with CSD occur in the southern states, with the dry western states being accommodative to flea populations.
  • The CDC experiences the largest reports of infection in the months of January and from August through December.

CDC research states it’s unclear why there are so many cat scratch cases occurring in January instead of the August-November period later in the year.

According to experts, the reason might have something to do with cats being indoors more in the winter. These months are also the prime time of the years for the growth and development of flea populations.

Another theory suggests the spike in January occurs due to more people visiting homes where they might interact with a cat they don’t know, receiving a scratch.

a crouched alert cat in a doorway staring at feet readying to pounce

What Do I Do If My Cat Scratches Me?

If you get a scratch from any cat, make sure you attend to the wound immediately, regardless of the severity. Wash the affected area with soap and water, and then sterilize it with a disinfectant solution. If your cat scratches your eye seek immediate medical help.

If the bite or scratch draws blood, sterilize the wound, apply pressure to stop the bleeding. Coat it with an antibacterial salve and apply a plaster or bandage for the wound’s compression and protection.

If you have a cat that’s younger than 12-months, be especially careful about scratches. If you have kids around, educate them about the disease, and tell them to report scratches to your immediately.

To prevent your cat from coming in contact with the fleas that cause cat scratch disease, we recommend taking the following precautions.

Keep your cat indoors as much as possible from August through to the end of January.

Check your cat for fleas at least a few times a week.

Control fleas on your cat by using flea repellant shampoos and conditioners, and give them a flea collar to keep fleas away. (Ask your vet for an approved product, as some might not be suitable for cats).

Key Takeaways

  • Cat Scratch Disease (CSD) occurs due to bacterial infection.
  • Fleas carry the bacterium and spread it to cats that pass it to humans.
  • Don’t play rough with your cat; they have sharp claws and teeth- and they always win.
  • Always sterilize any scratches.
  • Educate your kids and tell them to report scratches to you.