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How To Treat Cat Bites and Scratches

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Updated May 27, 2014

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As much as humans interact with felines, cat bites are common injuries, especially in children. Responding to a cat bite should always start with the safety of all involved, including the victim, the rescuer, and if possible, the cat.

The following steps can be taken at home, or wherever the bite occurred, but you should always consult with a physician right away to determine if further action is needed.

Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Respond immediately

Here's How:

  1. Stay Safe. Secure the cat or the victim. Move one away from the other. If the cat's owner is around, instruct him or her to secure the cat. If not, move the victim to a safe location. Cats may bite or scratch if frightened or their kittens are threatened, so leave them alone. Don't start any treatment until there is a reasonable expectation that the cat won't attack again.

  2. If you are not the victim, practice universal precautions and wear personal protective equipment if available.

  3. Control any bleeding by following the appropriate steps. Avoid using a tourniquet unless there is severe bleeding that cannot be controlled any other way.

  4. Once the bleeding is controlled, clean the wound with soap and warm water. Clean inside the wound, being sure to rinse away all the soap, or it will cause irritation later.

  5. Cover the wound with a clean, dry dressing. You can put antibiotic ointment on the wound before covering. Cat bites and scratches often lead to infection. Watch for these signs of infection:
    • Redness
    • Swelling
    • Heat
    • Weeping pus

  6. Always consult your doctor. The wound may need stitches. Since they are often deep, cat bites and scratches are of particular concern for infection. Again, regardless of how severe you think the bite is, always consult a physician right away.

  7. Wounds on the face or hands should always be evaluated by a physician because of the likelihood of scarring and loss of function.

  8. Any unidentified cat runs the risk of carrying rabies. If the cat cannot be identified and the owner cannot show proof of rabies vaccination, the victim must seek medical attention. Rabies is always fatal to humans if not treated.

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