I had just finished grooming a large orange tabby cat who had been a pleasant, mellow guy to work on from start to finish. I had his carrier ready and was going over him with a comb one last time before sending him home. At that moment, he decided he had enough of me and, with a speed that belied his rotund form, spun and sank his teeth deep into my knuckle. I knew instantly that this was not a minor bite…and it is possible that I uttered an unladylike word or two. After tucking him safely in his carrier, I proceeded to perform the best first aid that I knew how.
If a cat should bite you, here is how you should take care of your injury:
- Encourage a little blood to flow from the wound, which will hopefully carry some of the bacteria out with it.
- Flush the wound with tepid running water for several minutes.
- Wash the wound with hand soap, then rinse well. (Do not pour alcohol or any harsh cleanser into the injury. This can cause cellular damage.)
- Pat the area dry with a clean cloth.
- Apply antibiotic cream to the wound.
- Bandage the injury with a sterile bandage.
- Call your health care provider.
True confession here; I loathe going to the doctor. I didn’t want to do that last part, but I knew this was an intense bite and it was right over my knuckle, so I called, and they had me come right over.
The doctor examined the wound, rebandaged it and prescribed antibiotics. He told me not to go to work the next day. I was instructed to keep the injured area wrapped in a warm cloth and a heating pad, and to keep it elevated over my heart as much as possible.
I am not the kind of person who misses work, and I blithely told him so. He looked me in the eye and said, “You will be missing a lot of work if you are in the hospital on IV antibiotics. Cat bites are serious, and you need to treat this seriously.” So, I called in sick for the first time in years, followed his instructions exactly and am thankful that I made a full recovery.
But why are cat bites so dangerous? Statistically, cat bites result in infection 30-50% of the time. Unfortunately, many victims wait hours or days before seeking medical treatment, not understanding the potential danger. Usually the injury does not look like much more than a pinprick.
The trouble is primarily due to cats’ cone-shaped, super-sharp canine teeth. Those teeth boast narrow points at the tip which are able to pierce deeply into the skin. Even healthy cats will have several types of bacteria in their saliva that could cause problems. The one that most commonly causes infections in human victims is Pasteurella multocida.
Because cat teeth are small, the human body typically seals the puncture rather quickly. This leaves a nice warm place for that bacteria to multiply. If a bite becomes infected and is left untreated, the infection can become serious, causing cellulitis or even blood poisoning to occur. Cat bites, like any puncture wound, can also carry the potential for tetanus.
As pet groomers, most cat bites we receive are on our hands. According to the Mayo Clinic, one in three cat bites on the hand will require hospitalization. The study also noted that a bite on any joint in the hand was more likely to require a hospital stay than soft tissue injuries.
Beyond these rather frightening statistics, it will be essential to check and ensure that the cat who delivered the bite is up to date on its rabies vaccine. If the cat has an unknown history or is overdue for having its rabies vaccine, anti-rabies treatment may be recommended. In addition, cat bites should be reported to the local health department.
I have been safely grooming cats for almost 40 years, and am happy to report that I have suffered very few injuries. However, I believe it is imperative for groomers who choose to work on cats to become educated on how to safely, kindly and compassionately handle felines so that both the pet and the groomer will be unscathed during the process. ✂️