What Diseases Can You Get From Cat Scratches?

Medically Reviewed on 1/26/2023
Cat Scratch Disease
Cat scratch disease can affect anyone near cats.

Cat scratch disease (CSD) is an infection caused by Bartonella henselae, a bacterium in cat saliva, which can be spread by scratching, biting, or licking. Cats probably acquire the bacteria from fleas.

Cat scratch fever is another name for cat scratch sickness. In healthy people, CSD does not cause serious illness. However, it could be an issue for infants or those with weakened immune systems, such as people with cancer, diabetes, or AIDS.

What are the signs and symptoms of cat scratch disease?

One to three weeks after a bite or scratch, cat scratch disease (CSD) usually causes enlarged lymph nodes. It is important to realize that cat bites and scratches can result in skin infections such as cellulitis. CSD is less frequent than cellulitis, which has similar symptoms.

Common signs that a person has come into touch with an infected cat include:

Less frequent signs might be the following:

How is cat scratch disease treated?

Cat scratch disease (CSD) is normally not a serious condition. There may be no need for medical treatment. Treatment with antibiotics such as azithromycin may be beneficial in some circumstances.

Other antibiotics which may help include:

Cat scratch disease is more severe in those with HIV/AIDS and other immune system weaknesses.

How can cat scratch sickness be avoided?

Cat scratch sickness is uncommon, yet it can lead to significant illness. If you own a cat or frequently interact with cats, it's a good idea to take precautions to keep yourself safe.

The following actions can help you stay safe:

  • Trim your cat’s claws: Claw trimming reduces the possibility of getting skin-breaking scratches from your cat. Your cat doesn't need to get its claws removed. Declawing does not appear to reduce the risk of cat scratch disease.
  • Keep up with flea prevention: Cats get B. henselae from fleas. You and your cat can avoid cat scratch illness by keeping your cat flea-free by using flea protection.
  • Keep the cat indoors: Cats that live outside are more likely to encounter B. henselae. As much as possible, keep your cat inside.
  • Do not engage in rough play with your cat: To avoid getting bitten or scratched by your cat unintentionally, try not to agitate them. Children should be reminded not to roughhouse cats. When young children are in the same room as the cat, keep an eye on them.
  • Wash bites and scratches immediately: Scratches and bites should be immediately washed with soap and water. This lessens the possibility of B. henselae and other bacteria entering your body.
  • Keep track of your veterinarian's appointments: Regular visits to the veterinarian are essential for the health of your pet. Your veterinarian can ensure that your cat is healthy and flea-free.
  • Keep your distance from outdoor and wild cats: B. henselae is more commonly carried by outdoor cats. It's a good idea to avoid outdoor, stray, and feral cats to avoid potential bites and scratches.


Bacterial Infections 101: Types, Symptoms, and Treatments See Slideshow

What are the complications of cat scratch disease?

If cat scratch fever spreads to other organs, it could get worse.

Some of the complications include:

  • Endocarditis: Chest pain, muscle and joint aches, and night sweats can all be brought on by inflammation of the heart's outer membrane. Endocarditis poses a severe health risk.
  • Hepatosplenomegaly: A disorder when your spleen and liver expand or swell. This may result in nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
  • Parinaud's oculoglandular syndrome: A disorder in which the lymph nodes next to your ears swell and the conjunctiva, a portion of your eye, becomes inflamed and red.
  • Neuroretinitis: Is defined as inflammation of the anterior optic nerve and peripapillary retina.

Is cat scratch fever a serious condition?

Rarely does cat scratch sickness result in significant illness, and it typically goes away by itself. Each year, cat scratch disease complications send around 500 Americans to the hospital.

Who is most susceptible to cat scratch disease?

Cat scratch disease can affect anyone near cats, but children younger than 15 years are most likely to contract it. You run a higher risk of developing significant cat scratch illness complications if you have HIV or a compromised immune system.

Medically Reviewed on 1/26/2023
Image Source: iStock image

Cat Scratch Disease https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/cat-scratch-disease

Cat-scratch disease - including symptoms, treatment and prevention https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/public+content/sa+health+internet/conditions/infectious+diseases/cat+scratch+disease/cat-scratch+disease+-+including+symptoms+treatment+and+prevention

Cat Scratch Disease https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482139/

Cat-scratch disease https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/diseases-conditions/cat-scratch-disease

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Cat Scratch Fever https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/23537-cat-scratch-fever