Armidale Vet - Friendly and caring service for all your pets and working animals
02 6772 1686 Contact Us

Cat-scratch disease - What you need to know

20th July 2020

Cat-scratch disease (CSD) is a bacterial infection that you can catch from your feline friend. However, knowledge and precautionary measures can make all the difference to your risk.

It’s believed that up to 44 percent of all cats will carry the fever-causing bacteria, Bartonella Henselae, at some stage in their life. Those cats can transmit the bacteria to humans, causing cat-scratch disease. It’s estimated that worldwide the disease affects about nine out of every 100,000 people, with 80 percent of those being under 21 years old. Being aware of the condition can make all the difference to its frequency in your household.


Cats can get the bacteria through flea bites, or flea dirt getting into their wounds. If another cat has the bacteria, they can transmit it to your cat through scratching and biting. They can then easily pass the bacteria onto their human companions. If a cat is infected, they only need to scratch or bite you hard enough to puncture your skin, or lick at any open wound you may have, and you’re at risk of contracting it.


Your cat can carry the bacteria for several months without any issues or symptoms, but the disease can sometimes appear when your cat has another illness, trauma, or surgery. In severe cases your cat may suffer from inflammation of the heart, resulting in laboured breathing. It can also cause infection in the mouth, eyes, and urinary tract, and other organs can become inflamed.


You can prevent your cat from getting the bacteria by restricting their access to other cats – including strays. Try to prevent fleas by regularly applying a flea product approved by your veterinarian.You can also teach family members not to play fight with cats in a way that may result in scratches and bites; and limit your children’s access to your cat if you suspect the bacteria. If you do get bitten or scratched, you can reduce the risk by cleaning the wound out with soap and running water.


If a cat has wounded you, and you have some of the following symptoms, you may have CSD. Usually, within three to ten days of the injury, the wound will become infected and swollen, and a lump or blister will form around the site. You may also have fever, headache, poor appetite and tiredness. One to seven weeks after that, your glands will begin to swell and become painful.


Non-prescription medicines can relieve the pain and lower a fever, or your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. In rare cases serious complications can occur, and will require intensive treatment.If you suspect your cat may be infected, consult your veterinarian for diagnosis and advice; and contact your doctor if you have any of the symptoms.