A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

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

Your dog or cat may be your best friend. Even so, pet bites or scratches can still happen.

Jump to Topic

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.

RELATED RESOURCE: Find a Marshfield Clinic Health System urgent care location

Infections symptoms for pet bites or scratches include:

  • Redness and swelling
  • Streaks of red near the wound (not the scratches)
  • Fever
  • Pus from the wound
  • Fatigue and weakness
A cat and dog cuddle.

Pet bites and scratches can cause infection.

Cat bites

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.

Cat scratches

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.

Dog bites

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.”

Dog scratches

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.

Bunny bites

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.”

For immediate care, visit Marshfield Clinic Health System.

Find an urgent care location Find an emergency department location

Related Shine365 Posts

Advice and ideas to exercise with your dog

Allergies and holidays: A survival guide

EpiPen: Anaphylaxis treatment for an allergic reaction

Bug bites and bee stings: Prevention and treatment

Tick removal if you are bit by a tick

87 Comments
  1. Mar 14, 2024
  2. Mar 18, 2022
    • Mar 21, 2022
  3. Mar 11, 2022
    • Mar 14, 2022
  4. Jan 2, 2022
    • Jan 3, 2022
  5. Nov 13, 2021
    • Nov 19, 2021
  6. Sep 3, 2021
    • Sep 9, 2021
  7. Aug 26, 2021
    • Aug 26, 2021
  8. Jul 14, 2021
    • Jul 20, 2021
  9. Jun 17, 2021
    • Jun 21, 2021
  10. May 24, 2021
    • May 24, 2021
  11. Jan 3, 2021
  12. Dec 28, 2020
    • Jan 4, 2021
  13. Oct 29, 2020
  14. Sep 28, 2020
    • Sep 29, 2020
  15. Aug 31, 2020
    • Sep 1, 2020
  16. Aug 28, 2020
    • Sep 1, 2020
  17. Aug 18, 2020
    • Aug 19, 2020
  18. Aug 8, 2020
    • Aug 10, 2020
      • Sep 7, 2020
      • Sep 8, 2020
  19. Aug 7, 2020
    • Aug 10, 2020
  20. Aug 3, 2020
    • Aug 4, 2020
      • Aug 8, 2020
      • Aug 10, 2020
  21. Jul 26, 2020
    • Jul 27, 2020
  22. Jul 20, 2020
    • Jul 20, 2020
  23. Jul 19, 2020
    • Jul 20, 2020
  24. Jul 18, 2020
    • Jul 20, 2020
  25. Jul 16, 2020
    • Jul 16, 2020
  26. Jul 6, 2020
    • Jul 6, 2020
  27. May 19, 2020
    • May 20, 2020
    • Jun 28, 2020
      • Jun 29, 2020
  28. May 13, 2020
    • May 13, 2020
  29. May 9, 2020
    • May 12, 2020
    • Jul 24, 2020
      • Jul 27, 2020
  30. Feb 2, 2020
    • Feb 4, 2020
  31. Oct 4, 2019
    • Oct 4, 2019
  32. Aug 27, 2019
    • Aug 27, 2019
  33. Jul 9, 2019
    • Jul 9, 2019
  34. May 26, 2019
    • May 28, 2019
      • Jun 28, 2019
      • Jul 1, 2019
  35. Jan 30, 2019
    • Jan 31, 2019
      • Feb 1, 2019
      • Feb 4, 2019
  36. Jan 9, 2019
    • Jan 10, 2019
  37. Dec 19, 2018
    • Dec 20, 2018
      • Jan 2, 2020
      • Jan 2, 2020
  38. May 29, 2018

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

View our comment policy