Chances are if you spend any time at all around cats, sooner or later you are likely to get bitten. Cats can be sweet and loving one minute and turn around and chomp on you the next. Don’t take it personally! The cat may not be hating on you, it’s simply a natural instinct for a cat to lash out if it feels threatened in any way.
My Siamese cat, Rascal was notorious for happily enjoying being petted and talked to in a soothing voice. She would be purring away with a big old smile on on her face, and then suddenly she would turn around, chomp on my hand, jump down and run away. I’ve talked to other cat owners who have had similar experiences. It’s important to understand that your cat may not be biting because she doesn’t like you, it may be a simple case of becoming over-stimulated. Sometimes all that attention may just become too much and kitty needs to take a break from the situation.
Cat Bites Can be Serious
In my 30-plus years as a medical transcriptionist I’ve come across cases of folks who had to be hospitalized for IV antibiotics due to a cat or dog bite. It happens more often than you might think. Animal bites can be very serious, but especially cat bites. That’s because of a cat’s very sharp, needle-like teeth. Even a small bite might not look that serious at first, but because of their sharp teeth they can create puncture wounds that force bacteria deep into the skin, even into muscles, tendons and bone. Also because the puncture wounds are small they are more likely to trap the bacteria deep inside where it spreads more rapidly.
Believe me, I learned this lesson the hard way just last week. Lately I’ve been working a second job as a caregiver for a man who is a stroke victim. He lives with his family, but they are all busy working during the day, so he needs someone there to take care of him. In their household they have two cats and a dog. The dog is a pit bull, and is very sweet, gentle and loving. One of their cats is pretty mellow too, but the other one, a grey tabby, is a pistol. The other day Ms. Tabby decided to jump up and take a stroll on the kitchen counter. I knew she wasn’t allowed up there, so I tried to shoo her off. But instead of jumping down like I’ve seen her do for her mistress many times, she without warning whirled around and latched onto my wrist, sinking her teeth in deep and hanging on for what seemed like forever, but was probably only a few seconds. Immediately incredible pain shot up my arm and into my hand.
I knew enough that right away I began flushing the punctures with lots of water and washed it out for several minutes. I had about an hour left in my shift at this time, so I toughed it out, even though I continued to be in pain. When I got home I washed it some more and then put on a triple antibiotic ointment and bandaged it. I considered going to Urgent Care, but because it was the 4th of July I figured they’d all be pretty busy, so I decided to wait until the next day and seek how it looked. Here it is several hours after the bite.
This picture is the underside of my wrist. On the other side I have two more bites where the cat’s upper teeth punctured through that are even deeper. The next morning when I got up my wrist was swollen pretty good and there were red streaks going down the back of my hand and up my arm. Because it was a work-related injury I called my supervisor to report it, and she told me to go to urgent care.
When the nurse-practitioner saw me at urgent she told me I should have come in immediately after getting bitten, holiday or not. I knew she was right, but I’m stubborn that way. At the clinic they cleaned and dressed the wound, gave me a shot of Rocephin, which is a powerful antibiotic, and a prescription for 10 days of oral antibiotics as well. She measured the area of redness and swelling, which by that time was about 10 x 12 cm. Here’s a photo of day #2.
I had to go back to see the NP the next day again and it looked even worse and the swelling and redness had spread even further. So they gave me another shot of Rocephin and told me to come back the next day. Finally by day #3 it was looking better and the swelling had gone down somewhat. But I had strict instructions to wash it thoroughly twice a day with antibacterial soap and water, cover it with Bacitracin ointment and keep it bandaged until it’s completely healed. Plus, be sure to finish all 10 days of the oral antibiotic. I narrowly escaped having to be hospitalized, which I am very thankful for. So lesson learned the hard way.
What To Do If You Get Bitten
First of all, wash the wound thoroughly right away with antibacterial soap and lots of water. But it’s important to note that you should not use hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, iodine, etc., as it can cause further tissue damage and even slow down the healing time. If the bite has broken through the skin you should apply pressure to stop the bleeding, apply a clean bandage, and seek medical attention immediately (which I failed to do). You will likely be given a prescription for oral antibiotics, and always remember to take all of them as directed.
NOTE: You should never stop taking prescription antibiotics until the entire amount of pills is gone. Because so many people think the wound is healed or they are feeling better, they stop taking the medication too soon. This is why there are so many super bacteria today that require increasingly stronger antibiotics to clear the infection.
Also be sure to verify that the cat is up to date on all of it’s vaccinations. The doctor will probably ask you if you are up to date on your tetanus shot as well.
Leaving a severely infected cat bite untreated can lead to more serious consequences such as fever, weakness, headache, swollen glands, feeling like you have “the flu,” etc. Left untreated, this can lead to sepsis which can damage internal organs, and even cause death.
Watch for Red Flags
While it’s less likely that your own family pet will inflict a serious bite wound, there are warning signs to watch for in any cat. Some common red flags are vocalizations such as hissing or yowling. A cat that feels threatened may be crouched down with it’s ears pinned back, tail down, or dilated pupils. Better be safe than sorry and heed the cat’s warning to leave it alone.
In the case of my bite, Ms. Tabby lashed out without any warning. It all happened so fast my head was spinning. Her owner says that recently Ms. Tabby was treated for kidney stones and ever since then she’s been “grouchy.” Because it was a worker’s comp case, the clinic also had to fill out a report with the county animal control, which is leading to more problems. Because technically the cat belongs to my client’s daughter-in-law, she is more concerned about something happening to her cat than what happened to me. My supervisor called her and told her that the cat had to be kenneled whenever any of us caregivers are there working. She adamantly refuses to do that, and also she refuses to cooperate with animal control. Fortunately the cat is current on her vaccinations. I’m not blaming the cat, but while I’m still taking care of the gentleman, I give that cat a wide berth. If Ms. Tabby wants to do a dance on their kitchen counter, so be it, I’ll just step back and watch.
Have you ever experienced a cat bite? If so, how did you handle it? Please tell us your story in the comments.