Cats can cause wounds with their teeth or claws. Cat bites or scratches can be serious because cats can transmit an array of bacteria and parasites.
Cats have long sharp teeth that can create deep puncture wounds. They also have claws that can create deep scratches. These types of injury may cause bleeding. An infection may occur in 12 to 24 hours, particularly if the hand is affected. The area may become red, swollen, and very painful. Other possible symptoms include fever, drainage from the wound, and swollen lymph nodes.
Cat bites or scratches are treated by first rinsing the wound with saline or sterile water. The nearby skin is washed with a mild soap and warm water. Severe or deep injuries may be closed with stitches (sutures). A clean pressure dressing may then be applied. A tetanus shot may be needed, especially if the child’s last shot was more than 5 years ago. If you don’t know if the cat was vaccinated, rabies protocol may be followed. This includes keeping the cat isolated (quarantined) and giving a series of rabies shots to the child. If the wound is severe or infected, a hospital stay may be needed.
The healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics to take by mouth (oral) or in cream or ointment form. These help prevent or treat infection. Follow instructions for applying or giving this medicine to your child.
Wash your hands well with soap and warm water before and after caring for the wound. This helps lower the risk of infection.
Follow instructions on how to care for the wound. This may include cleaning the wound with gentle soap and warm water. If a dressing was applied to the wound, be sure to change it as directed.
If the wound bleeds, place a clean, soft cloth on the wound. Then firmly apply pressure until the bleeding stops. This may take up to 5 minutes. Don't release the pressure and look at the wound during this time.
Check the wound daily for signs of infection (see below).
Do your best to prevent animal bites and scratches. If you're thinking about getting a family cat, pick one that has a good temperament and is least likely to be a danger to children. Teach your child to treat animals gently and with respect. Children should not go up to strange animals or tease or provoke animals.
Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised.
Call your child’s healthcare provider or get medical care right away if any of the following occur:
Your child has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider
Your child has signs of infection around the scratch or bite, such as warmth, redness, swelling, or foul-smelling drainage.
Your child has bleeding that doesn’t stop after 5 minutes of firm pressure.
Your child has flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, headache, or swollen lymph nodes.
Your child is having trouble moving any body part near the site of the scratch or bite.
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