Cat Scratch Disease and Your Child


cheryl-franco-author-banner-101613 Many people think cats, especially kittens, are playful and adorable. While this is true, you may be shocked to find out that cats carry bacteria called bartonella henselae (Cat Scratch Disease). Cat scratch disease can affect anyone, including people with decreased immune systems and children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about 40 percent of cats carry cat scratch disease at some time in their life and kittens are more likely to be infected. Cat scratch disease can be very serious and it is important to know the symptoms, treatment and how to prevent the disease from affecting your family and your loving cat at home.

What is Cat Scratch Disease?

It’s all in the name actually! Cat scratch disease is transmitted when cats and kittens that carry the disease scratch or bite your child.  Surprisingly, cat scratch disease can even be transmitted from a cat licking an open wounds or exposed area of skin on your child. The disease has been found in fleas but it has not been proven that flea bites can directly give your child cat scratch disease.

How Do Cats Get Cat Scratch Disease and Is my Cat Infected?

This is a good question and I consulted with The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) to provide you with a few ways cats get the disease. This is what I discovered:

  • Cats can become infected with the disease from fleas carrying the bacteria.
  • Cats scratch themselves and can get the bacteria in their claws from the infected fleas. The bacteria can be transmitted to a human or another cat.

There is no way to look at a cat or kitten and know if it has cat scratch disease. Cats don’t show any signs of being infected and generally look very healthy. If you are concerned your cat may have the disease, consult with your cat’s veterinarian.

Symptoms and Complications of Cat Scratch Disease. (Tweet this)

The most common symptoms of the disease are a slight bump, blister, redness, warm or infected looking area at the site of the cat bite or scratch. Other symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen, warm, redness and possibly pain of the lymph nodes around the neck, head, under arms. This can take up to a few weeks to develop.

Being able to recognize the symptoms of cat scratch disease can help prevent the disease from getting worse and making your child more sick. Here are serious complications of cat scratch disease.

  • Infection of the heart valve.
  • Enlargement of the spleen.
  • Bacillary angiomatosis, which is a life-threatening but curable infection causing purple bruises under the skin and in other organs.
  • Other infections and complications of the eyes, bones, and even brain.

Kids with weak immune systems are more at risk for these complications.

How is Cat Scratch Disease Treated?

If your child shows any of the symptoms listed above, after being scratched or bitten by a cat, seek medical attention immediately in order for your child’s doctor to look and monitor the area of the bite or scratch. Please do the following if your child is scratched, bitten or even licked on an open sore or exposed skin:

  • Wash the scratched or bitten area with soap and water.
  • If the area becomes red, a bump or blister occurs and it becomes warm or infected looking, seek medical attention right away.
  • Most symptoms will go away within a few weeks to a few months but need to be overseen by your child’s doctor.
  • Your child’s doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
  • Surgery may be necessary if a lymph node becomes badly infected or the spleen becomes enlarged.

How can I Prevent Cat Scratch Disease from Affecting my Family? (Tweet this)

  • Do not interact with stray cats.
  • Be gentle with cats and don’t play roughly.
  • Wash cat bites and scratches with soap and water immediately.
  • Don’t let cats lick skin.
  • Consult your veterinarian about trimming your cat’s claws and safe flea control.

Cat scratch disease can happen to anyone and knowing the information in this blog post will help you to safely enjoy your cat and seek medical attention early if your child or anyone in your family develops symptoms. I encourage you to share this blog post with your friends, family and colleagues that are cat owners. Are you also a dog owner? Here are tips on how to safety interact with dogs and information about dog bite injuries.