By Dr. Becker
Dog bites are often a topic of discussion and are generally considered dangerous, but we don’t hear much about cat bites. Perhaps it’s because kitties have smaller mouths and teeth than dogs, so their bites don’t appear all that serious.
A new study, however, suggests that while dog bites get lots of attention, cat bites can be just as hazardous. As you’ve surely noticed, your kitty has sharp teeth that can easily puncture your soft human skin, transferring bacteria from the cat’s mouth into your body.
30 Percent of Cat Bite Patients in Study Required a Hospital Stay
The study was conducted at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, and was led by Dr. Brian Carlson of the Division of Plastic Surgery.1 Dr. Carlson and his team of researchers evaluated 193 patients who saw a doctor or went to an emergency room for a cat bite on the hand or wrist from 2009 to 2011. (The wrist and hand are common locations for cat bites, and are also prone to infection.)
The average age of the patients was 49, and the majority were female. About one third wound up being admitted to the hospital for infection or other problems related to their cat bite injury. The average amount of time that elapsed between the cat bite and when the patients received medical attention was 27 hours.
Of the 193 patients, 36 were immediately admitted to the hospital, 154 were given antibiotics and sent home, and three received no treatment. Most of those sent home with antibiotics were treated successfully (86 percent), but 21 ultimately had to be hospitalized. The average hospital stay was a little over three days.
Twelve of the 21 patients who were later hospitalized, and 26 of those immediately hospitalized underwent procedures to flush out the wound or surgically remove infected tissue. Eight required more surgery.
Longer-term complications from infected cat bite wounds included abscesses and loss of joint mobility. People with bites directly over the wrist or joints were more likely to be hospitalized than people with soft tissue bites.
Cat Bites, No Matter How Small, Should Not Be Ignored!
While the authors conceded this was a relatively small study that looked at data that was not always uniform, Dr. Carlsen also stressed that while cat bites often look minor, both patients and doctors should take them seriously. This is especially true when there is swelling or inflammation at the location of the bite.
“Cat bites look very benign,” said Dr. Carlsen. “But as we know and as the study shows, they are not. They can be very serious.”