What to Do When a Cat Bites You: Treatment & What to Do


It may be hard to believe that your beloved kitty would ever bite you, but cat bites happen more often than you think. Approximately 66,000 hospital emergency visits occur every year due to cat bites1.

If you’ve been bitten, you may be tempted to leave it to heal on its own, and in a perfect world, that would happen. Unfortunately, many complications can arise after a cat bite, so it’s best to visit the doctor as soon as you can.

Keep reading to learn what you must do after being bitten by a cat.

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What to Do After Getting Bit

So, you’ve been bitten by a cat—now what? Here are some things to consider after you wipe away your tears.

Wound Care

The first thing you need to do is wash the wound under running water. Do not scrub the wound or use strong chemicals, which can do more harm than good. Instead, to clean the area, create a mild salt solution with one teaspoon of table salt in two cups of water. Rinse for a few minutes after you’ve cleansed the site with your salt solution.

If you’re bleeding profusely, use a bandage to apply direct pressure to the wound.

Once the bleeding is under control, apply an antibiotic cream like Neosporin and cover the wound with a bandage. Keep the wound site elevated above the level of your heart to prevent swelling and infection.

bleeding wound on ankle caused by cat bite
Image Credit: Oporty786, Shutterstock
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Report the Bite

Physicians are required by law in some areas to report bite incidents to the local health department. If the cat’s vaccine status is known and up-to-date, it must be placed under a 10-to-14-day quarantine period. The quarantine may be longer if the vaccine status is unknown or outdated.

If the offending cat is unknown or feral, it’s important to try to get a photo of it if possible. You can then provide the health department or animal control with a photo, description, and location of the cat.

3 cat face dividerWhen to Go to the Doctor

Depending on the severity of the bite and the cat that caused the wound, you may need to see the doctor immediately.

If the bite is shallow and came from a household cat fully immunized and in good health, use the instructions above to clean your wound and watch for signs of infection.

Signs of infection include:

  • Fever
  • Increased pain
  • Increased redness
  • Swelling
  • Fluid leaking from the wound site
  • Red streaks leading away from the bite

If the wound is deep or came from an unknown animal, follow the above signs for cleaning the wound. Then, call your healthcare provider for help reporting the attack. They will also tell you if you need to come in for an examination or if you’ll need additional treatment (e.g., antibiotics, rabies vaccine).

You should go to the hospital if the following applies:

  • Bleeding that doesn’t stop after 15 minutes despite putting pressure on the wound
  • Blood is spurting from the wound
  • You have a condition that weakens your immune system (e.g., lung disease, cancer, AIDS)
  • You were bit by a feral or wild animal
  • You think the bite has become infected
cat bite marks
Image Credit: LS92, Shutterstock

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Why Do Cat Bites Get Infected Easily?

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they need animal protein to survive. As a result, they have evolved to have super sharp canine teeth that can easily puncture the skin of their prey.

When a human gets bit by a cat, the puncture wounds it leaves in its wake will seal over rapidly, trapping any bacteria from the cat’s mouth under the skin. This can easily become a breeding ground for bacteria.

Cat bites can be very dangerous to humans and other animals due to the number of bacteria they carry in their mouths. One of the most common pathogenic bacteria seen in cats is Pasteurella multocida. A cat infected with this bacterium will leave behind a red, swollen, and painful bite wound. The resulting infection could spread to nearby tissues, causing cellulitis. It could even get carried through the blood to other body areas, causing blood poisoning. These infections can sometimes be fatal, so it’s not something you want to mess with.

The signs of cellulitis include:

  • Red and swollen skin that increases in size
  • Pain
  • Fever
  • Lethargy

The signs of blood poisoning include:

  • Chills
  • Sudden fever
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Heart palpitations
  • Lethargy
wound from cat bites and scratches with blood on it drying up
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

What You Need to Know About Cat Scratch Disease

Cat scratch disease (CSD) is a bacteria infection spread by cats. Humans most often contract the virus after being scratched by a cat, hence the condition’s name. However, it can also occur when an infected cat bites them. Cats often become infected with the bacteria behind CSD through flea bites, though they can sometimes contract it during fights with infected cats.

The bacteria can cause some cats to become sick, but most will simply carry it in their blood without showing any symptoms. According to the CDC, as many as 1 in 3 cats have the CSD-causing bacteria in their blood.

Though rare, CSD can cause serious consequences as it can affect the brain, heart, and other internal organs. Some people may suffer from complications, though this is most often observed in children under 15 and those with compromised immune systems.

The symptoms of CSD include:

  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Scab or pustule at wound site
  • Headache
  • Poor appetite

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Final Thoughts

A cat bite is a serious wound that needs to be treated promptly. Depending on the bite’s severity and the cat’s status, you may need to go to the hospital immediately for treatment. If the wound is shallow, you may be able to get away with keeping a close watch on it at home. However, if you notice any signs of infection, it’s time to go to the doctor.

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Featured Image Credit: Alie04, Shutterstock

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