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August 13, 2018 |0 min read |Veterinarian Reviewed

Cat Scratches: How to Avoid, Treat & Care for Them

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Anyone who's ever owned (or likely even been around a cat) has been scratched at some point and probably has wondered how to treat a cat scratch. A cat scratch isn't always intentional. You might have been holding Fluffy when she suddenly jumped from your arms to scurry on over to her kitty litter box. Maybe you were playing and got a little too close to your feline friend.  Sometimes the cat bite or scratch is purposeful. You might have misread a cue and gone in for a friendly scratch behind the ears, only to end up with a cranky swat to the hand. Maybe your furry animal was sick or just in a bad mood and decided to take it out on you.
However it happened or however it may happen in the future, we'll fill you in on what to do if you get scratched by a cat. Here are some basic tips you can follow to try to avoid scratching behavior in the first place and how to treat a cat scratch you aren't able to dodge.

Cat Scratch Disease Is Real


A cat scratch can be anything from a barely-there mark on the surface of your skin to a deep gouge from a cat’s nail, requiring medical attention. Why are cat scratches especially dangerous if they break the skin?

Besides the scratch providing an opening for germs to enter your body, cats sometimes can be an infected cat  carrying a bacterium called Bartonella henselae, even though most of them don't actually show signs of the infectious disease or other common cat diseases, such as fatigue or loss of appetite. There are many illnesses that can help answer the common questions of “why would a cat stop eating?” or “why is my cat so exhausted?” However, the presence of this Bartonella bacteria does not contribute to such symptoms.

When an infected cat scratches you, there is a chance that some bacterium of the Bartonella infection could enter your bloodstream, potentially causing flu-like symptomsswollen lymph nodes near the puncture wound, cat scratch fever, headache, sore throat and more.

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How to Prevent Cat Scratches

If you own or are near cats often, you'll probably be scratched at least once due to aggression in cats. To help limit contact  and complications between you and a cat’s claws (and the resulting damage), try the following:

  • Observe the cat's mood. If it seems irritated or angry, don't attempt to pet the animal.
  • Engage in gentle play. If your young kitten or adult cat tends to play rough anyway, consider wearing gloves and long sleeves.
  • When playing, opt for toys you can use from a distance, such as a laser pointer or a feather toy.
  • Keep your cat's claws trimmed (but see below for a special note about declawing).

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    How to Treat Cat Scratches

    • So Fluffy got too close and you got clawed by the cat’s nail. It happens sometimes. Follow these steps to get yourself on the mend. This will help you avoid a bacterial infection and the flu like symptoms that follow:

    • Assess the puncture wound. If it's a mild scratch, washing it with soap and water should suffice treatment. If necessary, a clean, dry gauze pad can be held to the wound until it stops bleeding.

    • Apply an over-the-counter antibiotics or treatment cream to the wound, over with a dry, clean bandage, and allow to heal. Keep an eye out for unusual swelling, redness, soreness, and other signs of Bartonella infection.

    • Pay close attention to wounds on the hands and feet. They come into contact with more surfaces than other areas of the skin, so wounds here are prone to higher rates of infection and may require a stronger antibiotics.

    • Likewise, if the person scratched is very young, elderly, and/or has a weakened immune system, monitor the wound closely to head off bacterial infection.

    • If a cat scratches your eye, seek immediate medical attention.

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    Declawing Solves Cat Scratching Behavior, Right? Wrong.

    Some pet owners choose to fix the problem of scratching by having their cats declawed, but this is an outdated, even cruel practice that permanently maims and even endangers cats. When cats are declawed, the last bone of each toe is amputated, the equivalent of a human having each finger amputated at the last knuckle. The procedure can cause nerve damage, bone spurs, lameness, and back pain due to the changes in the cat's gait. If the cat ever escapes outside and has to face a predator, it's put at a serious disadvantage due to being unable to scratch to defend itself.  If you have ever wondered, “how territorial are cats by nature?”, the answer is very territorial. And for this reason, they do need their claws intact to protect themselves.
    Instead of subjecting your cat to this painful and unnecessary surgery, follow the tips listed above to minimize scratches without maiming your furry friend.


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    Profile picture of Christina Scamporrino

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    Christina Scamporrino

    Christina Scamporrino is a lifelong animal lover and began working in the petcare space in 2019. Christina’s passion for the community of feline owners and enthusiasts have led her to designing premium packaging for PrettyLitter cat litter, PrettyPlease dry food, wet food, and treats, and a litter box designed to solve common litter box issues.

    Outside of her professional work in the petcare space, Christina is a longtime kitten foster and has worked with several cat rescues throughout Southern California. When given the option, she favors orange cats, but loves all cats equally.


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    Sara Ochoa

    Sara Ochoa, DVM graduated from St. George's University Veterinary School in 2015. Since then, she has been at a small and exotic animal practice in Texas. In her free time, she loves making quilts and spending time with her husband Greg and their 4 fur kids. Two dogs, Ruby a schnoodle, and Bug a Japanese Chin, one cat named OJ and a leopard tortoise named Monkey.