The idea of a cat inflicting serious, even life-threatening injuries might make some people snicker but cat bites are no laughing matter. An infectious disease expert at Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown University Hospital says cat bites become infected about 50 percent of the time. But since they are inflicted by a cat, a generally docile, small and otherwise inoffensive creature, victims usually don’t’ seek treatment right away. That gives the bacteria Pasturella multocida plenty of time to get comfortable in the body
Pasturella, for those not up to speed on bacteriology, is found in the mouths of 80 percent of cats. Left untreated, it can cause serious cellulitis within 12 to 24 hours. Swelling and pain at the bite site are the first signs. Bites on the hands are particularly worrisome; the bacteria can quickly spread up the tendons, leading to tissue destruction and long-term disability. In severe cases, the infection spreads to the bone, bone marrow and joints. Streptococcus is another common bacteria in cat mouths, and left untreated strep can cause tissue destruction and serious systemic infections.
Once these infections get a hold, killing them off is not quite as easy as taking some pills and calling the doctor in the morning. Patients who turn up at hospital emergency departments with signs of infection usually need powerful antibiotics delivered intravenously. Some have to stay in the hospital for several days and a few may need surgery if the infection has gotten into the bone tissue. The situation is even more complicated for patients with chronic liver disease or spleen diseases because of the risk of developing septic shock, a condition than can, and often does, kill.
So why isn’t infection so much of a problem with dog bites? The disease experts say dogs usually deliver crushing bites but the teeth don’t penetrate far. Cats, on the other hand, have long, sharp teeth that inject the bacteria into puncture wounds, a very cozy place for bacteria to multiply. The expert advice is to seek medical attention for all but the most superficial cat bites. If it breaks the skin and draws blood, have the injury examined and don’t put it off. It only takes a day for the bacteria to set up shop and start doing serious, possibly permanent, damage.
Source: York Daily Record, “Why cat bites can be more dangerous than you think,” Marie Joyce, Jan. 23, 2013