Cat Scratch Disease: Should You Be Worried?


Last updated January 19, 2018

When you hear the words cat scratch disease, your first thought is probably the popular Ted Nugent song Cat Scratch Fever from 1977. However, cat scratch fever, more commonly known as cat scratch disease, is a very real condition.

Cat scratch disease is a fairly rare self- limiting infectious disease. Approximately 22,000 cases are reported in the United States each year.

What is cat scratch disease?

Cat scratch disease is an infection caused by the Bartonella henselae bacteria. It is transmitted if a cat who is carrying the bacteria bites or scratches a person.

How do cats become carriers?

Cats get the Bartonella bacteria from fleas. Most infected cats do not show any signs of illness. The bacteria is only transmitted from cat to cat if fleas are present. Kittens are more likely to be infected than adult cats.

Symptoms of cat scratch disease

You may notice a small red bump, in addition to the wound, in the area where your cat bit or scratched you. If you have been infected, you may experience a mild fever, loss of appetite, a sore throat, headaches, and a general feeling of malaise. Symptoms may not appear right away, and may last for several weeks. They can vary from mild to severe.

Treatment of cat scratch disease

Most cases of cat scratch fever won’t require medical treatment. In the rare severe case, antibiotic and/or antimicrobial therapy may shorten recovery time.

How to prevent cat scratch disease

  • Be diligent about flea control. To avoid side effects from chemical flea treatments, explore natural options.
  • Avoid rough play with cats that may lead to scratching and biting.
  • Don’t let cats lick any open wounds you may have.
  • Strengthen your own immune system and that of your cat. A strong immune system makes you cat less susceptible to fleas.
  • Do not declaw your cat. Declawing is an inhumane and painful procedure, and it won’t stop your cat from being a carrier of cat scratch disease.

What to do if you are scratched

Always wash any wounds immediately with warm, soapy water. Seek medical attention of the wound if you notice redness, swelling or discharge.

Cat scratch fever might sound scary, but with a low risk factor and usually subtle symptoms, most people won’t even know they have been infected. This rare disease is certainly no reason to avoid the company of cats.

This article was previously published on and is republished with permission.

search close