Cat Bites Could Be More Dangerous Than You Think

Cat bite infections led to hospitalization and surgery

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) When a cat bites, the wound is often brushed off because it doesn't look like much. However, a new study warns that cat bites can be serious and prone to infection.

This new study, led by Mayo Clinic researchers, looked at patients who visited a doctor or emergency department for cat bite injuries to the hand or wrist.

Nearly one third of these patients were admitted to the hospital for issues and infections related to their cat bite wound.

"Clean any wound thoroughly."

According to the authors of this study, who were led by Brian T. Carlsen, MD, of the Division of Plastic Surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, although dog bites tend to get more attention, cat bites should not be overlooked.

The sharp teeth of cats can easily enter soft tissue and introduce bacteria present in the cat's mouth into the human body.

To further explore the potential dangers of cat bites, Dr. Carlsen and team focused on bites on the hand and wrist — a common spot for cat bites and an area potentially prone to infection.

These researchers identified 193 patients who were treated at the Mayo Clinic for cat bite injuries to the hand or wrist from 2009 to 2011. The average age of these patients was 49 years old, and 69 percent were female.

Around half of the patients (51 percent) initially visited the emergency department, and the others went to a primary care department first. The average amount of time between when the bite occurred and when the patient received medical care was 27 hours.

Of these patients, 30 percent were hospitalized for issues related to their cat bite. The patients stayed in the hospital for an average of 3.2 days.

Of all 193 patients, 36 were immediately admitted to the hospital, 154 were given oral antibiotics and sent home and three were not treated.

Of the patients given antibiotics to take at home, most (86 percent) were treated successfully, but 21 (14 percent) were later hospitalized.

Twelve of these later hospitalized patients (57 percent) and 26 of the 36 immediately admitted to the hospital (72 percent) underwent irrigation and debridement procedures — procedures that surgically flushed out the wound or surgically removed infected tissue. Eight of these patients needed more than one operation.

Some complications from infected cat bite wounds were reported during follow-up visits, including abscess formation and loss of joint mobility. The researchers found that patients with bites right over the wrist or joints were more likely to be hospitalized than patients with bites on softer tissue.

This was a fairly small study that looked back at previously gathered data that was not always uniform, the study's authors noted. Further research involving a wider population is needed to confirm these findings.

In a Mayo Clinic news release, Dr. Carlsen stressed that even though cat bites might not look much bigger than a pinprick, they should be taken seriously by both patients and doctors, especially when the patient has swelling or inflammation in the area.

“Cat bites look very benign, but as we know and as the study shows, they are not. They can be very serious,” said Dr. Carlsen.

This study was published in the February issue of the Journal of Hand Surgery. No conflicts of interest were reported. 

Review Date: 
February 5, 2014
Last Updated:
February 6, 2014