Cat scratch disease: How your best friend can really ruin your day

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It’s not uncommon for our pets to take a swipe at us now and again. But did you know there could be a more sinister side to a tantrum from a grumpy cat? Learn more about cat scratch fever and how to prevent it.

A war wound from playing rough and tumble with our cats isn’t unusual but most pet owners don’t know that their pets may carry a bacteria that can result in an infected cat scratch or cat bite infection.

Fortunately, cat scratch disease sounds a lot worse than it is. But whilst the odd scratch from your pet isn’t usually anything to worry about, cat owners still need to make sure they’re taking precautions to make sure any nicks or bites don’t carry diseases.

What is cat scratch disease?

It’s thought that around 40% of domestic cats carry a bacteria called Bartonella henselae. They can catch this bacteria from fleas (read here how to get rid of those) and while the cats themselves don’t usually suffer any ill effects from it, they can pass it on to humans through a scratch or a bite, or if their saliva gets on an open wound (when they ‘groom’ you, for example). The symptoms from this bacterial infection are commonly called cat scratch disease or cat scratch fever.

Symptoms occur when the bacteria infects humans and causes a reaction, usually a swelling around the scratch or bite, but sometimes swollen lymph nodes, a headache, tiredness and low-grade fever.

Very occasionally, the infection can cause worse side-effects including a condition called Parinaud oculoglandular syndrome, similar to conjunctivitis, or neuroretinitis, which is an inflammation of the optic nerve. Additionally, it can result in a brain disease called encephalopathy and a bone condition called osteomyelitis – but these serious side effects are thankfully very rare.

Diagnosing and treating cat scratch disease

Only a doctor can diagnose cat scratch fever, either through checking your spleen or by taking a blood test. The treatment is usually a simple course of antibiotics but this is generally only given to people with poor immune systems or other illnesses. In most cases nothing needs to be done. Because of the potentially serious side effects, it’s still really important to see your doctor if you spot any of the symptoms.

Preventing cat scratch disease

Firstly, try not to get scratched in the first place! If you’re playing with your pet, either wear long sleeves or try not to get them too wound up.

If they do scratch, clean the area with some good antibacterial wash and keep it clean and away from the cat until you’re fully healed.

Most importantly though, it’s essential that you maintain a regular schedule of flea prevention treatments, since studies have shown that by doing so, this can help to prevent infection and therefore reduce exposure to this bacteria.

Did you know…

VH1 named Ted Nugent's 1977 song Cat Scratch Fever the 32nd best hard rock song of all time. Other cat-related entries in the top 100 included Eye Of The Tiger and Def Leppard.

Find out more about flea prevention treatments for cats here.

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