What is cat scratch disease?

From the PurinaCare Pet Health Library


The subject of Cat Scratch Fever comes up now and again, actually less than it used to, but this disease is often misunderstood so I thought I'd write something about it, today. I looked it up at the Pet Health Library and their article, "Cat Scratch Fever" has good content.

Most of us know the disease as 'cat scratch fever' as opposed to 'cat scratch disease' but they're the same thing. Caused by the bacterium, Bartonella henselae, this disease is harmless to cats, yet it can sometimes cause illness in people. I say sometimes because it's really not a common issue, and it's rather mild, so some folks might not even know they have it.

The article points out that infections are caused by cat scratches or a bite from a cat that carries the bacteria. Interestingly, it can also be passed on by fleas. Another good reason to keep your cat free of fleas! "In scientific studies," the article says, "close to half of normal cats were shown to be carriers. The studies also showed that kittens are more likely to be infected than are adult cats. Children and teens seem to be more susceptible and more cases occur in the winter, when free-roaming cats spend more time in the house."

Back in the day, people at our vet hospital were often worried about this disease, especially our cat Moms. We fielded a lot of questions at our vet's office and yet, no one ever came down with cat scratch fever, that I remember. Sometimes people are allergic to cat dander, and when accidentally scratched by their cat, they get a reaction that seems like the start of an infection. But, it's just a rash and it goes away fairly quickly. (I am one of those people; when my cat digs her claws in because she's a scaredy cat, I always get a rash that goes away the next day.)

To avoid this disease, it's best to avoid rough play with your cat. Wash all cat bites or scratches thoroughly with mild soap and water. And be diligent with flea control. My daughter also trims her cats' nails. If your cats will allow it, that's a good way to not only keep them from scratching if startled or frightened, but it could help protect your furniture.

If you think you may have cat scratch disease, get checked by your doctor. It's best to be safe. While most cases are mild and resolve on their own, some people may contract the disease and need medical attention. The sooner that happens, the better. Also take your cat to the vet to be checked for the bacterium. He or she may need medical attention, also.