Editor’s Note: The Scratching Post is a column that’s sponsored and written by the staff at NOVA Cat Clinic.
Many people think that because cats are so small compared to humans that they can’t do us any real harm. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Cats have so many weapons for their size — they come equipped with 18 claws and 30 teeth. Today, we are going to focus on cat bites and how they can impact us.
Any bite from a carnivore, like housecats, can be dangerous. Due to their diets, a lot of bacteria is present in their mouths which can lead to a widespread infection quickly in a person if their skin is punctured.
A cat’s teeth are shaped to kill and rip flesh from bones. As a result, when they bite and release the punctures they produce can close up and seal bacteria within the prey’s body. It’s almost as if they can inject bacteria, leading to infections which require medical treatment.
I’ve seen many people who’ve been bitten by cats think it’s no big deal. Then a couple of days later, the hand swells, throbs with pain and one may even be admitted to a hospital.
Years before I was in the veterinary field, I was bitten on the hand by a friend’s cat. I didn’t think too much of it, just washed it and went about my business. Two days later my hand swelled up like a balloon and I was admitted to the hospital for 3 days of IV antibiotic therapy. I also needed a surgical consult because of the location of the bite. Luckily there was no need for surgery, but this can often be a concern because cats tend to bite hands and wrists.
There are so many tendons, ligaments and important structures in the hand that it is not uncommon for a cat bite to need to be surgically debrided. Here at NOVA Cat Clinic, we always recommend that anyone who’s been bitten by a cat receive immediate medical attention and antibiotics.
In addition to the risk of infection and the need for antibiotics, anytime someone is bitten by a cat we must investigate the cat’s rabies status. If kitty is up to date on their rabies vaccine then medical attention is all that’s needed. If the kitty is not up to date, then by law the clinic must contact Animal Control.
Rabies is prevalent in Virginia, D.C. and Maryland. Animal Control must be made aware of any potential transmission form any mammal bites. In Arlington County, the typical protocol for an owned cat that has bitten someone is to follow a 10-day quarantine period. This involves keeping the kitty at home and indoors for a full 10 days for observation of any unusual symptoms.
Depending on the situation, a rabies booster may be given either before or after the quarantine process. If neither the kitty nor the person that was bitten show any symptoms after 10 days, the quarantine is considered complete and the risk of rabies transmission negligible. If there are any unusual symptoms, the kitty may need to be confiscated and the person may need intense medical intervention.
The moral of the story? Anything with teeth CAN bite. If it’s a cat, take precautions and be aware of the potential risks involved. If a cat bite occurs, please seek immediate medical attention.
The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.