Essential pet advice with vet Jo Gourlay

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Having had a few near misses trying to worm my own cats recently, as well as taking some direct hits over the years, in this week’s article we take a look at cat bites and scratches.

In all seriousness, though, cat bites and scratches should not be ignored. I have personally known of two people hospitalised because of being flippant about their injuries, so this week we have a look at why injuries caused by cats can be such a problem and what to do if it happens.

Often in practice injuries from cats occur when dealing with strays or farm cats not used to being handled, although you also get the notorious one arriving with their own set of gauntlets carried by a fearful owner.

However, it’s important to remember that even the friendliest cat may lash out when feeling threatened or if they are in pain. For example, if your pet’s had a scuffle with next door’s moggie unbeknown to you, unintentionally stroking a sore bit on their head or neck could generate an abnormal and out of character violent reaction.

The problem is that even normal, healthy cats carry a large number of quite unpleasant bacteria in their mouth and nails. Given that a cat bite or severe scratch can leave a deep wound, this bacteria can get pushed right into the injury, allowing infection to really get going, something that is even more apparent if the wound happens to occur over a joint.

In addition to the wound site itself becoming swollen and infected, an additional concern is the small potential of the bacteria to get into the blood stream and causing a more serious infection.

Tetanus is another, less likely, potential issue and there is also a condition called Cat Scratch Disease caused by an organism carried by some cats called Bartonella. This disease can appear some time (one to three weeks) after the injury and often causes the lymph nodes to become enlarged along with a fever.

People with prostheses, other implants, or those who have a weakened immune system are especially at risk of some of the more serious consequences. On the NHS website under the title “Bites, humans and animal”, there is some really useful information about reading animal behaviour to avoid injury and they advise people to seek immediate medical attention for all cat and all but minor dog bites.

If you are unlucky enough to get bitten or scratched (I have been both, and scratched many times), then it’s important to clean out the wound thoroughly by running clean water over it for a few minutes, no matter how small or insignificant it looks.

If the wound is bleeding quite heavily, a clean dressing can be used to help stem this but squeezing smaller wounds to encourage bleeding is actually advised to reduce the amount of bacterial contamination.

The NHS guidelines also advise taking painkillers, if you are able to, to minimise inflammation and pain.

The take home message following a bite or scratch is always to seek immediate medical advice.