John Doe is a client. His family has 3 dogs and a cat. The cat is not fond of the new dog. As John was letting the dogs out through the garage early in the morning, the cat also got out. In the process of getting the cat back in, it got scared by the new dog and bit John several times on the hand. The cat is current on vaccines. The picture was taken about 4 days after the bites.

What should John do?

John's cat bite wounds about 4 days after the incident.

John's cat bite wounds about 4 days after the incident.

 

 

Answer: John needs to go to the doctor within a few hours.

Instead, John waited until after work. His wife then convinced him to go in as his hand had become very painful and severely swollen with red marks moving up his arm. At that time he went to urgent care. They took one look at his arm and sent him to Regions Hospital Emergency Room.

He spent 2 nights in the hospital with IV fluids and IV antibiotics. Before bed the second night they told him he could not have breakfast in case he needed surgery the next day. A surgeon was to look at the hand in the morning. As it turned out he was improved enough that surgery was not required so he was discharged. Note the large area marked in purple that was severely red/bruised/inflamed.

Four days after the bite you can still see bruising. Note the purple lines that show how large the swellen/inflamed area was.

Four days after the bite you can still see bruising. Note the purple lines that show how large the swellen/inflamed area was.

John was told that severe problems like his are fairly common. About once a month they get a patient with similar problems after a cat bite.

Cat bites are different than dog bites. Dogs tend to shake their heads and cause large trauma to the area. Cats tend to sink their teeth straight in and pull them straight out. Cat jaws are not as strong as dog jaws, so we tend to see less crushing injury. The real problem is the bacteria in the cat mouth. A cat bite is much more likely to become severely infected than a dog bite.

Click the image for another cat bite story.

Click the image for another cat bite story.

Cat bites are notorious for becoming infected. Starting appropriate treatment with antibiotics and other care early can drastically reduce the risk of severe complications. Note that I say reduce the risk of complications.

Veterinary professionals are very familiar with cat bites. We are at much greater risk of being bitten by a cat than a dog. Cats are more agile and really are harder to read body language. They are more likely to give no indication that they are going to lash out than is a dog. We know that we need to go to the doctor promptly for antibiotics.

I know more than a few veterinary professionals who have been bitten by cats and have had surgery because of it, even after getting prompt and appropriate medical care. Some people lose some function in a hand or other body part and it is not uncommon to have multiple surgeries.

Same story as above after surgery. 

Same story as above after surgery. 

If you are bitten by a cat, always seek medical attention promptly. It may cost a little time and money, but it is much better than having huge medical bills and the likelihood of permanent disability.

I am happy to report that John is doing very well. His wounds are nearly healed and he does not appear to have lost any function in his hand. He did not even need occupational therapy. There was no evidence of the cat having rabies.

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