Cats are popularly known to scratch and nip at you adorably but it’s important to not be dismissive when they bite you, even if it doesn’t look very serious. Whether it’s a pet or a stray, a medical professional should be sought out in case of a cat bite. Cat bites are very common, second only to dog when speaking of animal bites, and most likely to occur on the hands and arms. Studies show that about 20% of all cat bites can become infected. In extreme cases, the infection could result in death but this is rare. Most of the time, the infection can be treated with medications.

  1. Signs and symptoms of a cat bite
  2. First aid for cat bite
  3. Complications of a cat bite

On average, cat bites may take 12 hours to start showing any symptoms but they could also take up to 48 hours. Even a harmless-looking bite can turn infectious, which is why it’s important to look out for the following signs at the sight of the injury

  • Swelling
  • Inflammation
  • Redness
  • Blistering around the wound
  • Pus or other drainages
  • Numbness
  • Problems moving the affected body part

A severe infection could also present with other generalized symptoms like fever, chills, fatigue, muscle weakness and more. If you notice any of these symptoms, you must reach out to your doctor.

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Being bitten by a cat can be disarming but reacting quickly can help keep infection at bay. Stay calm and follow the steps below as soon as possible:

  • Move away from the cat: If the cat is a pet, confine it in a different room or its crate. If the cat is a stray, make sure you’re in a safe, closed space that it can’t enter while you apply first aid.
  • Clean out the wound: Any cat bite, even ones that don’t seem to have broken the skin, should be thoroughly washed out with soap and warm water. If the wound is bleeding, apply pressure with a clean cloth.
  • Bandage it: If there is no break in the skin, you can dry it off and observe for a few days. In all other cases, you should use a sterile bandage and wrap it around the wound after drying it.
  • Vaccination history: Find out all the information possible about the cat’s past vaccinations from their owner or any neighbours in case of strays. Any other notable or unusual behaviours of the cat should be reported to the doctor as well.
  • Consult a doctor: It’s best to have a doctor look at your injury within eight hours of the incident. Let them know all you found out about the cat so they can advise you on the next steps. You may be asked to get a few precautionary shots, especially in the case where the vaccination history of the cat is now known.
  • Watch out for any new symptoms: If any new symptoms show up or the ones you’re experiencing already start to become worse, you must immediately reach out to your doctor. These could indicate infection, which should be treated as early as possible.

A cat bite can lead to many different complications, some minor and some more severe. Following are a few of them:

Infection: Cat can be carriers of many microorganisms that can cause disease in humans. The microbes are introduced deep into the would through the sharp teeth of the cat.

  • Tetanus: Tetanus, also called lockjaw, is caused by the bacteria called Clostridium tetani. It causes painful muscle contractions in the neck and jaw, making it difficult to speak and swallow. It can be prevented with vaccination, so let your doctor know the last time you received it and get another one if they recommend so.
  • Rabies: Rabies can be transferred from a cat to a human through a bite. A rabid cat may behave differently; for example, they may become agitated, aggressive and start to drool more. If symptoms of rabies begin showing in humans, death is most likely to follow. If rabies is suspected in the cat, you should get vaccinated immediately.
  • Cat scratch disease: Also known as felinosis, it can be a result of a bite as well as a scratch from a cat. It is caused by the transfer of Bartonella henselae bacteria. Common symptoms of the disease are fatigue, discomfort, a red bump on the skin and swelling of the lymph nodes. Symptoms can appear anytime within 14 days of the bite.
  • Pasteurella multocida: Pasteurella multocida is a bacteria that is commonly transmitted through cat bites. It often causes a skin infection called cellulitis but can also lead to septic arthritis, meningitis, peritonitis, sepsis and pneumonia. Symptoms of the infections would include redness of the skin as well as swelling and pain at the site.

Injuries: Infections aren’t the only result of a cat bite. The physical trauma of the bite itself can also cause damage to the victim. Following are a few injuries that could be a result: 

  • Muscle strain: A muscle strain can occur when the cat's teeth tear a muscle during the biting incident. It could take a few weeks to several months to recover.
  • Tendon rupture: When a tendon separates from the tissue, in part or completely, it is supposed to be attached to, a tendon rupture occurs. Recovery could take four to six months.
  • Nerve injury: It’s possible for the nerves to be damaged when a cat bites you. Numbness, pain and weakness may be symptoms of it. In severe cases, surgery may be required.
  • Scarring: If the bite is very deep, it could leave a permanent scar.
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