HEALTH & CARE

How to Treat a Cat Bite: First Aid and Precautionary Measures

black and white cat biting man's finger
Steve Corelli
Written by Steve Corelli

Every cat owner has found him or herself on the business end of a cat’s claws at least once. Cats use their mouths and claws to communicate and this behavior is absolutely normal, but it is still an unpleasant experience. Whether it was during play or just an unfortunate misunderstanding, it is important to know how to treat a cat bite and what precautions should be taken to avoid this behavior.

Cats, just like humans, have a complex bacterial flora in their saliva. A bite made by a cat‘s canines can easily puncture the skin and leave small but deep wounds. These wounds, having a small surface, rapidly seal over, leaving all the bacteria captured under the skin. This can lead to serious infections and complications if not treated immediately.

In this article, we will give you simple but detailed instructions on how to treat the wound and what to do if complications appear. We will also give you a few advice on how to avoid these situations in the first place.

How Dangerous is a Cat’s Bite?

angry cat wanting to bite

The mouth is undoubtedly the dirtiest part of a human body. This is also true for cats. The mouth cavity contains more bacteria than any other body parts. If a cat bites you, the bacteria transferred to the skin can spread rapidly in the surrounding tissue, causing cellulitis.

Cellulitis affects the dermis and the subcutaneous fat. Symptoms such as redness, swelling, and pain may occur. Other symptoms might involve swelling of the lymphatic vessels, fever, and drowsiness.

What to Do If a Cat Bites You?

Washing the wound with water

No matter how small the puncture wound might be, make sure to take precautions. If a child was bitten by a cat they might be scared, so it‘s very important to help them calm and help them understand the situation.

Kids, like animals, can feel your anxiety, so it‘s crucial to stay calm and be positive. Later you can discuss what happened and where things went wrong, but for now, focus on preventing a future situation that is even more stressful: going to the doctor.

See Also: Best Cats for Kids

#1: Immediate Action

These first couple of steps are very important in preventing a more serious scenario, and you can easily do them at home in just a few minutes.

  • Assess the severity of the bite. Some cats will give a warning nip before deciding to attack, but others are not that considerate. Was the skin punctured? If not, you are in the safe zone, but it is still a good idea to follow the next step.

  • Wash the wound with soap and hot water. Do not just rinse your hands, but hold the wounded area under the running water for a minute or two. Repeat the process, gently squeezing the bite to help the blood flow and push out any dirt left inside the wound.

  • Dry the wound. Use a soft towel to dry the area gently, but don‘t rub because the increased blood circulation can make the possible infection spread more quickly through the surrounding tissue. If needed, put a sterile bandage on the wound.

  • Disinfect. Pour a disinfectant on a piece of cloth and gently wipe the wound. You can use disinfectants that you probably already have in the household such as rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or hydrogen peroxide.

  • Prevent infection. Using a topical antibiotic cream can prevent the infection from spreading. Wide-range antibiotic creams that you can buy in a drug store are a good enough choice. Just make sure to consult a doctor before using any on small children or if you are pregnant. Always read the instructions given by the manufacturer carefully.

#2: Serious Wounds

The previous paragraph gave you some directions that should be taken no matter the severity of the bite, but there are some cases where you should visit the doctor immediately. Not all body parts react in the same way to trauma, and some are at more risk from infection. These include:

  • Bites on the face or head.

  • Wounds that bleed excessively and won‘t stop even after the initial treatment.

  • Wounds where the skin got very damaged, with parts completely detached or hanging from the surrounding tissue.

  • Bites that are near or on joints, ligaments, tendons, or veins.

What will happen when you go to the doctor? First of all, you will get an assessment, and you and your physician can discuss further actions. If your doctor prescribes you antibiotics, make sure to take them religiously!

Post-Treatment Actions to Take

angry stray cat

What happens after you’ve got all the necessary treatments? It would be great if nothing happens after that, but there’s always the change that there could be an unknown infection brewing underneath the surface. To avoid worst-case scenarios, here’s what you need to do:

#1: ID the Cat

The background of the rascal in question makes all the difference here. If this was your cat, you might think you are safe, but this isn’t always the case. Here are some things to consider depending on the scenario:

  • This was your cat who lives strictly indoors. Obviously the lesser evil. But to stay on the safe side, check the date of her last vaccination and treatment against internal parasites. Even if a cat lives indoors, she can get infected by checking out our shoes, bicycles, bags, etc. We carry a lot of those sneaky critters around without even knowing it.

  • This was an outdoor cat that has an owner. Whether this cat is yours or your neighbor’s, make sure to check the information we talked about in the previous step as thoroughly as possible. Talk to your neighbors, ask them about the overall health of their pet and vaccination.

  • This was a stray or a feral cat. In this case, you can‘t get any information about the cat‘s health or immunization status, so the wisest decision would be to visit the doctor immediately. You will probably be asked to run some blood tests. Don‘t think this is too much because you really can‘t know. Even if the cat looked healthy, there is no way for you to determine whether she is a disease carrier or not. Depending on where you live, you might also be prompted to undergo vaccination.

If the cat in question is yours, and you need to visit the doctor, make sure to bring the proof of the vaccination from your vet. In some places, the doctor needs to report the accident to the local department of health.

If the cat’s rabies vaccine is up to date, both of you are fine. Otherwise, the cat might need to spend some time in the quarantine.

If it was a stray or a feral cat make sure to call your local animal control and they will take all the necessary steps to examine the animal for possible health issues that can be transferred to you such as:

  • Rabies. Rabies is practically non-existent in the first world, but there are still a lot of wild animals that are considered potential carriers. When we think of rabies, we typically imagine an animal foaming at the mouth, but this is just one of the many stages. It is crucial to receive the shot as soon as possible since there is no certain cure for rabies in the late stage of the disease.

  • Tetanus. Tetanus is caused by bacteria that can be found in animal feces. If you have received a tetanus shot in the last five years, do not worry. But if that is not the case, you should probably take it just to be sure.

See Also: How Do You Know If a Cat Has Rabies

#2: Watch Out for Any Unwanted Symptoms

cat bites and scratches

Even though you have done everything by the book, you are not completely out of the woods yet. Monitor the wound closely for the next two weeks and visit the doctor if you notice any of these signs:

  • Redness or swelling of the area. You might be non-responsive to the antibiotics treatment. The physicians usually give wide-range but mild antibiotics to begin with, so you might need more aggressive treatment, especially if your immune system is weakened or you have diabetes.

  • The pain increases over time. Yes, it is definitely going to hurt for a couple of days, but if the pain becomes worse, you should get help.

  • Pus or fluid coming from the wound. This is a definite sign that the infection is still present and it might escalate quickly, so do not hesitate to visit the doctor.

  • Swollen lymph nodes. This is a very rare occurrence but can lead to many complications. Lymph nodes are a part of our immune system, and changes in their size are a definite red flag.

  • Fever, chills, or shivering. While all of these might just be related to all the stress you went through, you should definitely not take them lightly.

Preventing Cat Bites

hissing cat

It might seem to you that a cat bit you “out of the blue,” but this is rarely the case. Cats may bite when they feel overstimulated, in danger, or maybe you were just playing, and he or she got carried away. Whatever was the cause, there are things you can do to prevent this from happening in the future.

#1: Warning Signs

There are a couple of signs a cat will give you to warn you to stay away in case she’s not in the mood for some loving.

  • Hissing. If you see a cat hissing at you, don‘t try to approach her. Move away and don‘t make eye contact. Cats jump, and they jump high. She can get to you from a distance in a split second if she decides to charge.

  • Growling or yowling. A cat that makes this distinctive sound is in great distress. She feels very unsafe and should not be cornered. Give her some space and let her calm down.

  • Ears pinned back. This means that the cat is preparing for a fight. This is definitely not a good sign so respect her boundaries.

  • Crouched body, tail down, dilated pupils. At this point, we would advise you to turn around and leave as quickly as possible because this cat is ready to make you count all the sharp bits.

See Also: How Many Sounds Can a Cat Make

#2: Play Injuries

playing with a cat

Many times, a bite or a scratch happens during playtime, and this is really no one’s fault. Well, this is not entirely true. There are ways to train your cat to not use her teeth and claws as a play weapon, so you should probably consider taking a new approach to your play sessions.

  • Do not play rough. This might seem like fun while your kitten is the size of your palm, but she will not always be so small and helpless. If a cat learns that it is OK to use claws and teeth during play time, they won‘t see anything bad in it. If a kitten bites you, say “Ow!” and pull your hand away. Make a break from playtime, so she knows this is not acceptable. If your kitten is teething, make sure she always has a lot of chew toys available to massage those itchy gums. Even if you have a fully grown warrior to cope with, do not despair. This behavior can be corrected with some persistence and treats. After all, your cat loves you—she just does not realize how hurtful this rough play is.

  • Always be gentle. Cats can easily get overstimulated by physical interaction. Even if a cat is purring and rubbing against your hand, be very gentle and mindful of her body language.

  • Safe zones. Not all cats allow humans to rub their bellies and use them as a pillow. In fact, most of them really don‘t like it. Never pull a cat‘s tail or ears or try to handle her paws if you are not very familiar with her character. Also, attempting belly rubs have shredded more hands than anyone could count. Cats are usually very comfortable with people touching their head, cheeks, and backs.

#3: Handling a Cat

Even though they are overwhelmingly cute, try to resist the urge to pick up a cat and carry her around. Most of them don‘t like being carried and will try to wiggle out of that situation as soon as possible.

If this is the case, let the cat go. Do not squeeze her or try to make her stay in your arms in any way. Imagine if a creature ten times your size tried to do this to you. What would you do?

Another thing to keep in mind is a way to approach an unfamiliar cat. If you want to meet a cat properly, give her space. When she decides to approach you, let her sniff you and offer a hand. Maybe you are at the beginning of a wonderful friendship.

If a cat is obviously startled, scared, or hurt, try to help but be cautious—you might suffer the consequences. This is especially important if you are in a situation where you need to help a stray or an unfamiliar cat. It is best to call animal control and ask for advice.

Wrap Up

cat trying to bite a finger

We hope you stumbled across this article because you like our site and not because you were bitten. In any case, always try to prevent the worst if possible. In many accidents that happen with animals, it is a human‘s lack of understanding of body language and warning signals that lead to a bad situation. This only means that most of them can be easily avoided.

If, on the other hand, you had a bad experience with a cat biting you, make sure you take all the steps to avoid complications and stay mindful. Cat bites are a minor injury in most cases, and you should not stress over it, but a bit of effort put into taking precautions can spare you and your pet a lot of trouble.

Have you ever been bitten by a cat before? What did you do to rectify the situation? Share your story with us in the comments section below! You may also find our article on how many teeth do cats have interesting.

About the author
Steve Corelli
Steve Corelli

Steve Corelli is a Pet Nutrition Expert from Allentown, Pennsylvania. He is the author of many nutritional strategies for different breeds and a member of some Pet Food development teams. His Maine Coon Stephan, as you might guess, is always well-fed.

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