Cat Scratch Disease
What is cat scratch disease?
Cat scratches and bites can cause cat scratch disease, a bacterial infection carried
in cat saliva. Research suggests a cat may get these bacteria from fleas or their
droppings. Kittens younger than 1 year of age are more likely to scratch, increasing
the likelihood of infection.
What causes cat scratch disease?
Cat scratch disease is caused by a bacterium carried in cat saliva. The bacteria are
passed from an infected cat to a human after the cat licks an open wound or bites
or scratches human skin hard enough to break the surface of the skin.
Who is at risk for cat scratch disease?
Factors that can increase your risk for getting cat scratch disease include:
Being around cats on a routine basis, especially kittens that are more playful and
apt to accidentally scratch you
Not cleaning scratches or bites from a cat as soon as you get them
Allowing a cat to lick any open wounds that you have
Being around a flea infestation
What are the symptoms of cat scratch disease?
These are the most common symptoms of cat scratch disease:
A cat bite or scratch that becomes reddened or swollen within a few days and does
not heal or worsens over time
Painful or swollen glands, especially under the arms (if scratched on the arm or hand)
or in the groin (if scratched on the foot or leg)
Flu-like symptoms, including headache, decreased appetite, fatigue, joint pain, or
The symptoms of cat scratch disease may look like other conditions or medical problems.
Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is cat scratch disease diagnosed?
Diagnosis is based on a complete history, including a history of being scratched by
a cat or kitten, a physical exam, and sometimes blood tests.
How is cat scratch disease treated?
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend
on how severe the condition is.
Treatment may include:
Antibiotics to treat the infection
Care for the symptoms that result from the infection. In most cases, no antibiotics
are needed, and the infection will clear on its own.
What are possible complications of cat scratch disease?
Most healthy people don't have complications from cat scratch disease. But people
whose immune systems are weak (such as those who have HIV/AIDS, are receiving chemotherapy,
or have diabetes) can have complications such as:
Bacillary angiomatosis. This is a skin disorder that causes red, elevated lesions surrounded by a scaly ring.
It may become a more widespread disorder that involves internal organs.
Parinaud's oculoglandular syndrome. This condition causes a red, irritated, and painful eye similar to conjunctivitis
(pink eye). It also may cause a fever and swollen lymph nodes in front of the ear
on the same side.
Endocarditis. This is an infection of the heart.
Can cat scratch disease be prevented?
You can prevent this disease by trying not to be scratched or bitten by cats or kittens.
If scratched or bitten, wash the area right away with soap and water. Do not allow
cats to lick wounds you may have.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Call your healthcare provider if a cat scratch or bite becomes red or swollen and
you develop flu-like symptoms, such as headache, decreased appetite, fatigue, joint
pain, or fever.
Key points about cat scratch disease
Cat scratch disease is an infection caused by a bacterium in cat saliva.
The disease causes redness and swelling at the site of a cat scratch or bite and flu-like
If you are scratched or bitten by a cat or kitten, it is important to promptly wash
the area with soap and water.
Cat scratch disease can be treated by antibiotics.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help you. Also
know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that
Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.