Your dog or cat may be your best friend. Even so, pet bites or scratches can still happen.
If you are bitten or scratched by a dog or cat, even your own, infections that can follow are serious. Don’t ignore infection symptoms or wait to seek medical care.
Infections symptoms for pet bites or scratches include:
- Redness and swelling
- Streaks of red near the wound (not the scratches)
- Pus from the wound
- Fatigue and weakness
Cats carry a bacterium in their saliva called Pasteurella multocida, which can make you sick. About 80% of people who are bitten by a cat get infected and symptoms are pretty severe.
“The cat bite can lead to a severe infection,” said Dr. Kristin Verville, a Marshfield Clinic Health System Emergency Medicine specialist. “The bite site will abruptly become red, hot and painful. If the bite is on the finger or hand it can rapidly involve the tendons and be more difficult to treat so it is important to seek medical attention soon after the bite.”
Antibiotics are used to treat the infection. If you think you have this infection, seek medical care immediately, Dr. Verville said.
“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 to be seen if a cat bites you.”
Also, rabies can be a health concern with cat bites, especially if you do not know the cat’s vaccination history.
A cat scratch or bite from an infected cat can lead to cat scratch fever, a bacterial infection that can cause you to get quite sick. It also is possible to get the disease if an infected cat’s saliva gets into an open wound.
“The most prominent symptom is very large and swollen lymph nodes,” Dr. Verville said. “Lymph nodes in the extremity where the scratch has become enlarged and painful. Other symptoms are fatigue, headache, a low-grade fever and blisters or redness at the scratch site.”
Antibiotics are used to treat cat scratch fever but it could be three days to two weeks before symptoms appear.
Symptoms are similar with dog bites or scratches that happen from a dog’s teeth, even though the bacterium is different. Only 5% 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 encourage capturing the animal, especially if it’s not your own,” Dr. Verville said. “We worry about rabies, also, so we don’t want the animal running away.”
The biggest concern with a dog scratch from their claws is an infection.
To prevent infection, it is important to wash the dog scratch with warm water and soap. Apply pressure with a clean gauze pad if the scratch is bleeding.
Once the bleeding has stopped and the area is dry, apply an antibiotic cream to the dog scratch and cover the wound with a bandage.
“From this point forward, it is important to keep the area clean and change the bandage periodically,” said Dr. Verville.
A bunny bite can cause an infection, but the biggest concern is usually the bite itself. This is why it is important to clean and dress the area properly afterwards.
You should first wash the bunny bite with warm water and soap, and then dry the area. If the area is still bleeding, apply pressure with a clean gauze pad until the bleeding stops.
You should apply an antibiotic cream to the bunny bite and cover the wound with a bandage.
If you see any signs of infection, talk to a doctor. Rabies can be a health concern with bunny bites, especially if the bunny is wild or is not vaccinated.
Even if you know the cat, dog or bunny has had its shots for diseases like rabies, you should still see a doctor, Dr. Verville advised. “Whether it’s a bite or scratch, they are serious enough that you need to take them seriously and seek care.”