Being scratched by your cat during rough housing is bad enough, but being bit and having to go to the hospital because of infection is serious.
A Mayo Clinic research published in the February issue of Journal of Hand Surgery found that cat bites can be very serious and lead to one in three people being hospitalized after being bitten.
For the study “Cat Bite Infections of the Hand: Assessment of Morbidity and Predictors of Severe Infection”, researchers analyzed the data of 193 individuals who were treated at the Mayo Clinic for cat bites to the hand between Jan. 1, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2011.
The researchers found that 57 of these patients were hospitalized and were admitted for an average of 3.2 days. Of those who were admitted, 38 had to undergo surgery and eight of them needed more than one operation. The researchers also said that 80 percent of the patients were prescribed oral antibiotics but 14 percent of them needed to be hospitalized because outpatient treatment with antibiotics didn’t work for them. Notably, the average age of the patients was 49 and 69 percent of them were women.
Cats’ mouths contain no more bacteria than do dogs’, the researchers point out. It’s simply the fact that cats’ sharp little fangs are perfectly designed to inject that bacteria deep into tissue.
“The dogs’ teeth are blunter, so they don’t tend to penetrate as deeply and they tend to leave a larger wound after they bite,” said senior author Brian Carlsen, M.D., a Mayo Clinic plastic surgeon and orthopedic hand surgeon. “The cats’ teeth are sharp and they can penetrate very deeply, they can seed bacteria in the joint and tendon sheaths.”
“It can be just a pinpoint bite mark that can cause a real problem, because the bacteria get into the tendon sheath or into the joint where they can grow with relative protection from the blood and immune system, “Carlsen added.
The bacteria from a cat bite can include a strain common in animals that are hard to treat in humans because it is hard to fight with antibiotics.
The wrist or any joint in the hand is the worst place to receive a cat bite. The study showed a higher risk of hospitalization in those type of wounds over soft tissue. A hand, unfortunately, tends to be where a cat will strike, as the victim tries to pet the animal or offer food.
When your cat does bite, doctors at the Mayo Clinc say you need to take it seriously. When patients have inflamed skin and swelling, it probably will require aggressive treatment.
“Cat bites look very benign, but as we know and as the study shows, they are not,” Carlsen said. “They can be very serious.”
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