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Cat Scratch Disease

Cat Scratch Disease: Symptoms and Treatment | BetterVet

Our feline friends make excellent cuddly companions but like all animals, they can accidentally pass on diseases to their human parents. Infections that can be transmitted from animals to humans, or from humans to animals, are called zoonotic diseases. Cats have sharp and pointy nails and teeth that they use to play and explore the world, but sometimes they can accidentally bite or scratch their humans, causing infections. Cat Scratch Disease is one example of a zoonotic disease you can catch from your cat. It is relatively uncommon, however the infection can be serious, and it is important to know the facts to ensure you and your kitty stay safe and healthy.  Read on to learn more about Cat Scratch Disease and remember, if you have any questions about the health of your cat, the friendly BetterVet veterinarians can help. 


What is Cat Scratch Disease? 


Cat Scratch Disease is a zoonotic bacterial infection that can be spread from cats to humans. As the name suggests, cats can transmit this disease through a scratch, but it can also occur via a bite or by licking an open wound. The bacteria responsible for this disease is called Bartonella. There are over 20 different species of Bartonella and cats can carry five of them, but the most important one is Bartonella henselae. 


This nasty bacteria is spread through the cat population through fleas and flea dirt. Bartonella likes to live in the red blood cells of infected cats. When fleas jump on to have a blood meal, they inadvertently ingest the bacteria, carrying it with them when they jump onto the next cat buffet. They then leave the bacteria behind in their feces (flea dirt) which can be swallowed by the cat or caught under their nails while grooming. Once a cat is infected, it can accidentally pass it on to their humans.


What Are the Symptoms in Humans of Cat Scratch Disease? 


For a human to become infected with Cat Scratch Disease, a bite or scratch from your cat needs to break the skin. The bacteria enter the wound, traveling to the bloodstream, and over the next few days, the scratch site becomes sore, red, and painful. From here the infection can progress to cause enlarged lymph nodes, fever, headache, and fatigue. Healthy humans can clear the infection on their own, but it can take months to feel normal again. Cat Scratch Disease can have severe complications for immunocompromised people such as the very young, elderly, or those with other conditions such as HIV/AIDS. The bacteria can evade the weakened immune system and affect the heart, eyes, brain, and other internal organs, so any bite or scratch should be treated seriously. 

Does My Cat Have Cat Scratch Disease? 


All cats have the potential to be infected with Bartonella however if your kitty spends time outside, or if you have other animals at home, then the likelihood increases. This is because they have a higher chance of getting fleas or encountering other infected cats while roaming. Most cats that are infected with Bartonella are healthy and have no clinical signs of illness, making identification complicated. Infection can cause fever and lethargy, and some research suggests that infection could be linked to many feline inflammatory diseases. 

Currently, testing for the disease in cats can be problematic and is not routinely performed unless an owner is immunocompromised, therefore prevention is key. Although this may sound scary, there are simple measures you can take to protect yourself and your feline friend. 


How is Cat Scratch Disease Treated? 


Most healthy people will recover from Cat Scratch Disease with minimal interventions, however anyone that is bitten or scratched by a cat should seek timely advice from their doctor. Treatment for the infection in cats can be complicated and there is still a lot to learn. If a pet parent contracts a serious form of Cat Scratch Disease, or if the veterinarian suspects a cat has Bartonella, they may treat them with a long course of antibiotics to try and clear the infection. 


How Can I Prevent Cat Scratch Disease?


The easiest way to protect yourself from Cat Scratch Disease is to provide flea treatment for your pets. As Bartonella is spread by fleas, controlling the flea population drastically reduces the chances of your kitty becoming infected. This goes for all pets in the household, as dogs are very good at picking up fleas and bringing them into the home. Other preventative measures include keeping your cat indoors, avoiding rough play, and keeping their claws trimmed short. If your feline is frisky or feisty and accidentally bites or scratches you, then ensure you wash the area immediately with warm soapy water. Do not let your cat lick or groom the wound. If you are immunocompromised, concerned, or start to develop symptoms, then contact your doctor straight away. 


Cat Scratch Disease is an uncommon zoonotic disease that you can catch from your cat. Most people will recover without incident, but in some people, the infection can lead to serious complications. The best way to prevent Cat Scratch Disease is to ensure your cat is treated for fleas, keep them indoors, trim their claws, and practice good hygiene if bitten or scratched. As always, if you have any concerns about your cat’s health, chat with your veterinarian


Frequently Asked Questions


Can my dog get Cat Scratch Disease? 

It is uncommon for a dog to become infected with Bartonella henselae from a cat. It is possible for dogs to become infected with a different Bartonella species that also comes from ticks and fleas. Parasite prevention is important! 


Can I give Cat Scratch Disease to my partner or kids? 

If you have contracted Cat Scratch Disease from your cat, you cannot then pass it on to other humans. 


I am immunocompromised, should I give up my cat? 

This will depend on your individual circumstances, and it is best to discuss these together with your doctor and veterinarian. Fortunately, Cat Scratch Disease is relatively uncommon, and with the right precautions and feline lifestyle, it is possible to prevent your cat from becoming infected and ensure you live healthy and happy together. 

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