A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Pet bites or scratches: Infection symptoms you shouldn’t ignore

Your dog or cat may be your best friend. Even so, your pet may still scratch or bite you.

If you get bitten or scratched by a dog or cat, infections that can follow are serious. You should not ignore infection symptoms or wait to seek medical care.

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Infections that can follow a dog or cat bite or scratch are serious.

Cat bites

Cats carry a bacterium in their saliva called Pasteurella multocida, which can make you sick. About 80 percent of people who are bitten by a cat get infected, and symptoms are pretty severe.

You can get a terrible infection,” said Paula Hensel, a Marshfield Clinic urgent care nurse practitioner. “Usually it’s fever, swelling and redness around the infected area. You feel really sick.”

Providers give you antibiotics if you have the infection. Hensel says if you think you have this infection, seek medical care immediately.

“The bacterium from a cat bite is very aggressive,” she said. “I’ve had to put people in the hospital even when we managed it in urgent care with IV antibiotics and the infection doesn’t respond. You can become very sick from this. So don’t wait around if a cat bites you. Come in sooner than later.”

Dog bites

Symptoms are similar with dog bites, even though the bacterium is different. Only 5 percent of people get infected with dog bites. Usually, the bite has to be really deep or severe.

Report dog bites to law enforcement, even if it is your own dog. If a dog bites all the time, this becomes a safety issue.

“We always say try to capture the animal, especially if it’s not your own,” Hensel said. “We worry about rabies also, so we don’t want the animal running away.”

Cat scratches

If a cat scratches you, you can get Cat Scratch Fever. This also is a bacterial infection that can cause you to get quite sick.

“The most prominent symptom is very large and swollen lymph nodes,” Hensel said. “The lymph nodes in the extremity where the scratch is become enlarged and painful. Other symptoms are fatigue, headache, a low grade fever and blisters or redness at the site of scratch.”

Providers also use antibiotics to treat Cat Scratch Fever. But it can be three days to two weeks before symptoms show.

Even if you know the cat or dog has had its shots for diseases like rabies, you should still see a doctor.

“Whether it’s a bite or a scratch, they are serious enough that you can’t mess with them,” Hensel said. “You need to take care of them.”

For immediate care, visit a Marshfield Clinic urgent care location.

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