Why Do Cat Scratches Itch – Uncovering the Mystery


Having fun playing with your cat is great, but sometimes your kitty can get a little aggressive and end up biting you. And if that’s not bad enough, getting scratched by a cat is even worse. We’ve all experienced scratches before, but for some unknown reason, cat scratches tend to be more irritating compared to other types of scratches. So, what’s the reason behind why cat scratches itch?

Cat scratches cause itching because when a cat scratches, it triggers the body’s natural response to injury. The nerves in that area become highly stimulated, leading to the itchy sensation that people feel. Itching can also be a result of a histamine response to the cat scratch. Additionally, itching can be caused by bacteria present in a cat’s claws.

These reactions occur naturally and are not specific to any particular species. When a cat scratches you, it can intensify the itching sensation due to the presence of bacteria in their claws. This bacterial presence can sometimes result in a serious infection. Now, let’s explore what steps to take if you get scratched by a cat and how to distinguish between a minor irritation caused by a scratch and an infection.

How Do You Treat A Cat Scratch?

If you’ve had cats for as long as I have, you’re bound to get scratched at some point. If you work at an animal rescue or a vet’s office, you can’t escape a cat’s claws. Scratches can occur accidentally or when your cat is irritated with you. For instance, if you try to scratch your cat’s belly and they don’t like it, they might swat at you. Cats also scratch as a reaction to fear.

Usually, a scratch from a cat is not a major issue. To take care of the scratch, clean the area right away and use an antibiotic ointment. The ointment will help reduce the itchiness. You might also have to put on a band-aid or gauze to stop any bleeding.

If your scratch is deep and the bleeding doesn’t stop, it’s important to seek medical attention. Stitches may be necessary for deep wounds, as there is a high risk of infection. In such cases, your doctor will likely administer antibiotics or prescribe them to you. It’s crucial not to skip this part of the treatment, as a deep cat scratch can cause swelling and the antibiotics will help combat it.

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Can A Cat’s Scratch Make You Sick?

Sometimes, a cat scratch can result in severe illness for a person. There is a rare condition known as “cat scratch fever” or cat scratch disease. In cat scratch disease, the scratch does not heal properly and instead continues to swell and may develop sores. This disease is caused by a bacteria called Bartonella henselae, which is transmitted from the cat when they bite or scratch with enough force to break the skin. It can also be transmitted if the cat licks an open wound on the person.

To avoid CSD:

  1. Immediately clean your wound and apply ointment to it.
  2. If you have deep wounds, it’s important to see a doctor.
  3. Even though it may seem like a nice thing, don’t allow your cat to lick this wound or any other wound you have. If you don’t already have Cat Scratch Disease (CSD), this could make you get it.

Even if you are careful, it is important to watch out for indications of the illness. Signs of CSD may involve tiredness, a high body temperature, a decrease in appetite, enlarged lymph nodes, a headache, inflammation, and redness around the scratch, as well as sores, lesions, or pus near the scratch. If you observe any of these symptoms, it is crucial to see your doctor as soon as possible. Any symptoms should manifest within 1-3 weeks after the incident took place.

CSD cannot be tested directly. Doctors identify it through a visual inspection. While not all doctors may prescribe antibiotics, a prescription can speed up symptom relief. If you have other health problems or a weakened immune system, cat scratch disease may be more challenging to recover from. The location of the cat scratch can also influence whether a prescription is necessary or not.

What Causes The Bacteria In A Cat’s Claws?

Indoor cats get bacteria from their litter box. Consider what cats leave behind in their litter boxes. Even if they clean their feet well, some of it will still be around their claws.

Whenever a cat scratches, any bacteria present in their litter box gets transferred to the scratch. If your cat goes outside, they can pick up bacteria from anything they walk on or come into contact with. Despite being clean animals, cats inevitably leave behind some particles. If the things they stepped on contained germs and bacteria, those microorganisms are now present around their claws.

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The bacteria that leads to CSD is a little different. Normally, bacteria comes from flea bites. Cats can get the bacteria on their claws by scratching at fleas, dragging their claws through flea droppings, or touching any flea dirt with their paws.

The bacteria can also be found in a cat’s saliva, which means they can transfer it to their claws when they scratch themselves after bathing. Around 40% of cats can carry the bacteria that causes Cat Scratch Disease (CSD) at some point in their lives. While the B. henselae bacteria can make cats sick, most cats are able to eliminate the bacteria from their bodies without any problems. This condition is more frequently seen in kittens or cats that have had issues with flea infestations.

You don’t need to test your cats for this bacteria or give them antibiotics beforehand to prevent it. Cat Scratch Disease is very uncommon. Just be careful when playing with your cats or dealing with cats that are upset or wild. If you get scratched, clean the wound immediately and get medical help if you need stitches.

Can You Be Allergic To A Cat’s Scratch?

If you already have an allergy to cats, you will experience a reaction to scratches too. Someone who is allergic to cats will have a reaction to scratches, bites, as well as licks and kitty kisses. A person with a cat allergy may have an exaggerated response to a scratch, which can include significant swelling and redness at the site. Individuals with severe allergies may experience a reaction similar to a severe food allergy and may require immediate medical attention.

How Can I Avoid Being Scratched By My Cat?

Being a cat owner can be quite challenging. Those who have a cat can attest to the fact that it’s not always easy to predict what will upset them and make them scratch. This unpredictability often results in cat owners getting scratched occasionally.

To minimize the risk of getting scratched, it is important to refrain from engaging in activities that you know irritate your cat. If your cat doesn’t enjoy belly rubs and reacts by scratching you, it’s best to avoid doing it. Getting scratched is likely if you allow your cat to playfully wrestle with your arm or if you provoke them with your hands or fingers.

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If your cat is angry, it’s best to leave them alone until they calm down. If that’s not an option (or if you work with animals in a rescue or veterinary environment), make sure you protect yourself by wearing long sleeves and thick gloves.

Even if you don’t encourage it until they learn, some cats have a habit of scratching. If your cat tries to play with your hand, guide them towards a toy instead. This will help them break the habit, so you won’t get scratched as much.

Final Thoughts

Avoiding scratches from your cat is challenging. They can occur accidentally or when your cat feels scared or provoked and uses it as a defense mechanism. In most cases, simply washing the affected area and applying an ointment will suffice to resolve the issue.

Doing this will reduce the constant itching that can occur after a cat scratch. However, if the scratch is very deep, you may require extra medical care. And in uncommon situations, you might get an infection called cat scratch disease, also known as “cat scratch fever.”

To fully recover, make sure to see your doctor for a checkup and get a prescription for antibiotics. If you’re allergic to cats, a cat scratch can cause a serious reaction that might require medical help. To prevent your cat’s claws from causing harm:

  1. Avoid allowing cats to play with your hands or feet.
  2. Instead, give them toys to play with.
  3. If you’re dealing with a scared or angry cat, make sure to wear protective gear to prevent getting scratched.

You can also check this YouTube video about this topic:

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[Wikipedia] [Encyclopedia Britannica] [National Geographic] [cdc.gov] [Purina]

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