Stray cats are seemingly everywhere, whether lurking behind the parking lot at your workplace or milling around the dumpster of your corner deli. Although the furry creatures are indeed cute, they often carry disease, too. If a stray cat scratches you, immediate medical attention may be a very smart bet.
Cat Scratch Disease
Unsurprisingly, cat scratch disease is one of the possible results of a stray cat's scratch. The bacterial infection doesn't only occur from feline scratches, but also from bites and licks. In many cases, the disease subsides on its own, but in some situations can actually escalate to a more severe degree. Some typical signs of cat scratch disease are fever, weight loss, aching joints, exhaustion, swelling and tenderness of the lymph nodes, chills, headache, weakness, blisters and sores.
A scratch from a stray cat also can lead to the viral condition rabies. Since stray cats don't have owners, they are much less likely to have updated rabies vaccinations. Although rabies is usually transmitted via bite, a person can also become infected through a scratch. The infection functions by invading an individual's central nervous system, and often is deadly. Telltale indications of rabies are weakness, headache, fever, nervousness, sleeplessness, disorientation, hallucinations, problems swallowing, excessive drooling and irritable behavior. Because of the extreme danger of rabies, always seek immediate medical attention right after a cat scratch.
One major danger that could potentially arise from a stray cat's scratch is tetanus infection, sometimes referred to by the name "lockjaw." This very dangerous disease is triggered by Clostridium tetani bacteria. If a cat scratches you very deeply, it can make way for the bacteria to get into your body. Some signs of lockjaw are jaw muscle spasms, problems swallowing and stiffness of the muscles -- from the back to the neck. Tetanus can be deadly, so it is very crucial to see a doctor after any and all cat scratches. Tetanus shots may be necessary.
Although stray cat scratches can definitely be dangerous, remember that they're not the only way to get infected. For example, bites can be just as dangerous. Not to mention, coming into contact with a stray cat's stool can also lead to parasitic infections -- think toxoplasmosis and roundworms. Because of these possibilities, always exercise caution when around any and all outdoor cats.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Rabies
- KidsHealth: About Cat Scratch Disease
- ASPCA: Cat Scratch Disease
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Zoonotic Disease - What Can I Catch From My Cat?
- NYU Langone Medical Center: Cat Scratch Fever
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Cat Scratch Disease
- MedlinePlus: Tetanus
- KidsHealth: Rabies
- KidsHealth: Tetanus