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Cat Has Bite and Scratch Wounds? Here’s What to Do! (Our Vet Answers)

vet approvedCats are territorial creatures, and when roaming the suburbs, they often feel the need to challenge another feline that dares invade their space. This is especially common for highly territorial tomcats however neutered males and females will also fight from time to time.

During a fight, cats commonly sustain scratch and bite wounds. Cat bite wounds can be particularly nasty as a cat’s mouth is home to lots of bacteria. When a cat is bitten by another cat, it often causes a deep puncture wound contaminated with these bacteria, which introduces infection. This may result in the formation of a painful abscess (pocket of infection containing blood and pus).

Unfortunately, some cats also carry infectious diseases such as Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), which are transmitted through cat bites. However, vaccinations are available, and this should be discussed with your vet if your cat spends time outdoors.

If your cat has been bitten by a dog, seek veterinary attention immediately. Dogs bites can result in severe crushing injuries and may be life-threatening. If you have been bitten or scratched by a cat it is also vital that you seek medical attention for yourself.divider-catclaw1

What happens when your cat has been bitten by another cat?

adorable ginger cat wearing fabric collar when fighting_RJ22_shutterstock
Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

In the early stages when the wounds are fresh, you might not notice much at all. Small bite wounds or cat scratches can be easy to miss in long or thick fur. You might notice some fresh blood on the fur, a bleeding or oozing puncture wound (especially on areas with less fur like the head and face), or your cat may be limping or moving uncomfortably. Cats will also commonly lick the area excessively.

It is usually 2-4 days later that the more severe effects of bite wounds start to emerge.

If your cat is showing any of these signs, they need to be seen by a vet:
  • Fever – Cats often experience a fever after a cat bite, as the body reacts to the bacterial infection. Signs of fever include lethargy, hiding (under the bed or in a small, confined space), less interest in their food, and feeling warm to touch (especially over the ears and paws).
  • Abscess – These usually appear as swellings or lumps. They’re usually warm and painful to touch. Sometimes, because of their thick fur, pet parents don’t notice an abscess until it ruptures or bursts. This looks like an open weeping wound, often with a lot of discharge or wetness on the surrounding fur.
  • Cellulitis – Bite and scratch wounds tend to be associated with soft tissue inflammation and swelling known as cellulitis. This may be especially noticeable around the face and legs.
  • Lameness or abnormal tail position – Lameness or limping is sometimes very severe, and your cat will hold up their sore leg, refusing to put their weight on it. They might also show more subtle signs of lameness and just be moving awkwardly or uncomfortably and reluctant to jump. Bite wounds over the tail can also cause your cat’s tail to look floppy.
  • Behavioral changes – After a fight, your cat may hide or seek shelter inside simply due to stress. However, there are other reasons they might be behaving strangely. If your cat is quiet, lethargic, or eating less than normal, they may have a fever or be in pain. Your cat may also be more grumpy or reactive than normal because of a painful area, especially if this part of the body is touched when petting.

Cat bite or scratch wounds can occur in especially sensitive areas of the body. This includes bites into a joint space (which can cause septic arthritis or an infected joint), deep wounds over the chest and into the chest cavity (which can cause a pyothorax, a life-threatening infection of the chest cavity), or a cat scratch to the eye. If you think your cat has been bitten on a joint, on the chest, on the face, or has an eye injury you should contact a vet immediately.3 cat face divider

What should I do if my cat gets scratched or bitten?

The first thing to do is to make sure you keep your cat inside- lock the cat flap and close the windows. This way you can monitor them closely and you’ll be ready to take them to the vet.

  1. Observe your cat from a distance. Are they behaving strangely? Are they limping? Can you see any blood, or an obvious bite wound? Are they vocalizing or showing signs of distress? Is their breathing normal?
  2. Take a closer look at your cat– can you see the wound? Is it big? Deep? Through the skin? Is it in any of the sensitive areas such as over a joint or on the face? Sometimes, it’s easier to ‘look’ with your fingers, feeling for a wet patch or swelling, but take care- bites are painful and your cat may lash out.

If you suspect your cat has been bitten or scratched by another cat, it’s always best to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible. Even small wounds have the potential to become infected and form an abscess. However, you don’t need to call the out-of-hours emergency number unless your cat has a gaping wound or is in severe pain or distress. If in doubt, you can call them for advice, and they will let you know whether to attend the clinic.

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Image: Pikist

If there is only a small, shallow scratch or tiny graze from a tooth you may elect to monitor your cat over the next 5 days for any of the more serious signs mentioned above and keep the wound clean. However, it is important to remember that puncture wounds are easy to miss in a fluffy coat. Also remember to be careful handling a cat with a cat bite or scratch injury, as they are often painful and are more likely to bite or scratch you!

How do you treat a cat bite on a cat?

Your vet will thoroughly examine your cat to determine the extent of the injuries and will take their temperature to see if they are running a fever. From there, your vet may clip the surrounding fur and clean and flush the wound. If your cat has an abscess, this if often lanced to allow the infection to drain and the wound to heal. Sometimes this is too painful to perform and your cat will need to be sedated or anesthetized for the procedure. More severe injuries may require surgical debridement (removal of dead or infected tissue) and a drain placed. Blood tests may also be performed to check for infectious diseases such as FIV or FeLV.

Your cat will usually go home with pain relief, antibiotics, and sometimes an Elizabethan collar (‘cone of shame’). It is important to keep your cat indoors and to follow all discharge instructions.3 cat divider

Home wound care for cat bites:

What can I put on my cat’s wound? Can you put Neosporin on a cat’s wound?

If you are cleaning a cat bite at home always follow instructions from a veterinary professional. In most cases, warm water or saline are the safest options. Ensure your hands have been washed with soapy water for at least 20 seconds (or you are wearing gloves) and use damp cotton wool to gently wipe the wound twice daily. Do not use peroxides or disinfectants as these can irritate, delay wound healing, and can even be toxic to cats in some cases. Do not put any creams such as Neosporin on your cat’s wound, unless explicitly advised by your veterinarian.

cat being wrapped up in gauze
Image Credit: Sergey Gerashchenko, Shutterstock

What can I give my cat for an infection?

Only medication prescribed by a veterinarian should be given to your cat. Antibiotics will be safely prescribed by your vet in cases of infection and will commonly be dispensed in a tablet or liquid form, or may be given as a long-acting injection. It is important to follow all label instructions closely and finish the course of antibiotics even if the wound has healed or looks clean.


How long does it take bite and scratch wounds to heal?

The good news is for most healthy cats, bite or scratch wounds will heal within 5-7 days. Cats that suffer from diseases affecting their immune system such as FIV or FeLV may experience delayed wound healing.


How can I prevent my cat from getting bitten or scratched?

Neutering your cat is recommended as it will help reduce territorial behavior and the chances of your cat getting into a fight. However, neutered male and female cats are still known to suffer from cat bite and scratch injuries. Keeping your cat exclusively indoors or building an enclosed outdoor cat run are good options to help keep your cat safe.

There is some evidence that cats ‘timeshare’ territory in built-up areas. Arguments are more likely when you let your cat out at different times of the day, as they’re more likely to run into other cats in their territory. If your cat doesn’t have a cat flap, try making sure you only let them out at the same time of day.

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Conclusion

It’s never nice for your cat to be in a fight or to come home with painful wounds. Call your vet for advice if you notice a wound on your cat- you may even be able to send them a photo to help you decide whether to take your cat into the clinic. Remember that bites are painful– your cat might lash out in fear and pain when examined. If you do get bitten by your cat, you should clean the area immediately and contact your doctor.


Featured image credit: rihaij, Pixabay