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

Kitten Biting Hand
Anyone who's ever owned (or likely even been around a cat) has been scratched at some point. It isn't always intentional. You might have been holding Fluffy when she suddenly jumped from your arms. Maybe you were playing and got a little too close. Sometimes the scratches are 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 cat 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, here are some basic tips you can follow to try to avoid scratches in the first place and tend to the ones you aren't able to dodge.

Cat-Scratch Disease Is Real

Cat Scratching Hand
A cat scratch can be anything from a barely-there mark on the surface of your skin to a deep gouge 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 carry a bacterium called Bartonella henselae, even though most of them don't actually show signs of illness. B. henselae is transmitted by fleas, and when cats scratch at them, this bacterium can get trapped under their claws. When the cat scratches you, there is a chance that same bacterium could enter your bloodstream, potentially causing enlarged lymph nodes near the infection site, fever, headache, and more.

How to Prevent Cat Scratches

If you own or are near cats often, you'll probably be scratched at least once. To help limit this (and the resulting damage), try the following:
  • Observe the cat's mood. If it seems irritated or angry, don't attempt to pet it.
  • Engage in gentle play. If your 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).

How to Treat Cat Scratches

So Fluffy got too close and you got clawed. It happens sometimes. Follow these steps to get yourself on the mend:
  • Assess the wound. If it's a mild scratch, washing it with soap and water should suffice. If necessary, a clean, dry gauze pad can be held to the wound until it stops bleeding.
  • Apply an over-the-counter antibiotic 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 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.
  • Likewise, if the person scratched is very young, elderly, and/or has a weakened immune system, monitor the wound closely to head off infection.
  • If a cat scratches your eye, seek immediate medical attention.

Declawing Solves Scratching, Right? Wrong

Cat at Vet
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.
Instead of subjecting your cat to this painful and unnecessary surgery, follow the tips listed above to minimize scratches without maiming your furry friend.



Christine Whitt
Christine Whitt

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