Most cats bite during play and these bites rarely break the skin. Unless the bite does break through your skin, you should not worry about these playful bites. Cat bites that do penetrate the skin, however, are serious. All penetrating cat bites can cause infection and these infections nearly always require medical attention.
Cat bites can cause serious infections due to germs in cat saliva. When a cat's fangs break the skin, saliva enters the open wound and contaminates the wound with numerous pathogens. Cats may bite hard by accident, or if they are afraid, angry, injured or diseased. In addition, declawed cats bite more frequently than a cat with claws---biting is the only defence tool that these cats have left.
Cat bite sufferers who delay washing out a cat bite wound with soap and water (or at least water, if soap is not available) increase the risk of infection. Anyone taking immune-suppressing drugs, or with immune systems compromised for any other reason, also have a high risk of dangerous infection from cat bites. Anyone suffering from a cat bite, however, risks wound infection. Cats are also at risk for cat bite infection. Roaming tomcats fight, sometimes viciously, with other cats. Cats usually bite each other during these fights. The bites on cats often go unnoticed until the cat develops an abscess. Cat owners should neuter male cats to decrease aggressiveness and prevent these bites.
When a cat bites hard enough to break the skin, the cat's fangs cause small puncture wounds. The wounds typically do not bleed a lot, but are quite painful. Look for small red or blue-tinged holes in the skin--there may be only one hole if the cat only got one fang into the skin.
Skin damaged by a cat bite swells and reddens slightly. Infected bite wounds swell, grow hot and sometimes seep pus. Serious infections will cause fever, achy joints and, sometimes, permanent injury to the tissue. Cat bites not only cause soft tissue infection, bites can cause joint and bone infection, too. Most seriously, sometimes cat bite sufferers develop blood poisoning.
If a cat bites you or your child, clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water. If the bite bleeds, let it bleed as this helps flush out the bacteria. Afterwards, apply antiseptic to the bite and keep it clean and uncovered. Observe the bite for redness, swelling and warmth. If any of these signs appear, see a physician as soon as possible. If you do not know if the cat's vaccinations are current, you should see a physician regardless. You may need a precautionary rabies shots. Cats rarely bite humans hard enough to break the skin unless humans harass them or unless the cat is injured or has a disease. Those bitten should disinfect the bite immediately. Although rabies is not common in most cats in the US anymore, anytime an unfamiliar cat bites a person, especially without provocation, rabies is one possible cause.
Adults should teach children not to harass cats. As cats are small, they are vulnerable and they know it. A cat's only defence is her claws and teeth. It should be no surprise that when humans frighten cats or mishandle cats, the cat scratches and bites.
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