Animals/ Pets

What you need to know about cat scratch fever

Cat scratch fever is not just a Ted Nugent tune. It’s also a medical condition you can get from cat bites and scratches. What is it, and what symptoms should you look out for?

What is cat scratch disease

Technically, cat scratch fever (or CSD) is also known as a cat scratch. Bartonella henselae and transmitted by fleas, cause bacterial infection. It is usually harmless in cats. However, if bitten or scratched by an infected one, you may feel its effects.

The disease spreads from cat to person when saliva contacts your bloodstream or eye. Most commonly, this happens when your cat bites or scratches you or breaks your skin. CSD can be contracted directly from a flea or tick that is infected.

CSD Symptoms in Humans and Treatment

Most Bartonella infections present with mild flu-like symptoms and some irritation at the site of infection. Be on the lookout for these symptoms after a cat bite or scratch:

Blister or bump on the bite or scratch site

painful or swollen lymph nodes


Body aches

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low-grade fever

Some people may need medical attention, while others will be able to fight off the infection on their own. CSD may cause a severe infection in rare cases. It is more common in children aged 5-14 and those with weak immune systems. Seek medical attention if any of the following symptoms occur:

joint pain

Abdominal pain



High or prolonged fever

A doctor can perform a blood test for cat scratch fever after a physical exam. A polymerase-chain-reaction (PCR test) will reveal if Bartonella henselae has been detected in your bloodstream. Most of the time, an antibiotic course is enough to get your body back to normal.

Untreated severe cases of CSD may cause rare complications that can affect the brain, eyes, and bones. The affected individuals should also look for bacillary angiomatosis, a skin condition characterized by red, swollen lesions surrounding a ring-like scaly ring. The condition can spread internally if not treated properly.

CSD infections tend to be mild and are nothing to worry about. According to the CDC, there are approximately 12,000 CSD cases annually in the United States. Only 500 of these require hospitalization. You can still contact your doctor in case you are concerned. Better to be safe than regret!

CSD in Cats: Symptoms, Treatment, and Care

Cats are prone to Bartonella, also known as feline bartonellosis. The CDC estimates about 40% of cats are infected, most often as kittens. Most cats will carry the bacteria but not show any symptoms. This means that you may never even know your cat is infected.

In rare cases, bartonellosis in cats can cause a temporary illness. Mild cases pass within 48-72 hrs, while more serious infections can cause organ inflammation. Look for symptoms such as fever, vomiting, and lethargy. Also, be aware of red eyes, swelling lymph nodes, or a decreased appetite. Always consult your veterinarian if you notice any of these. They can test your cat for Bartonella and prescribe antibiotics.

How to prevent cat scratch disease

The conventional wisdom is true: An ounce of prevention will save you a pound in cure costs! CSD is not a serious condition, but it is best to avoid it if possible.

Fleas are the main cause of this problem. Bartonella is transmitted to cats by fleas, excrement, and bites. (You can also get it! Make sure to give your BFF flea collars or anti-flea medications regularly. Indoor cats are more likely to avoid insect hitchhikers but are not immune. You or your guests can easily bring fleas home, and your indoor cat is a prime target.

Similarly, you can minimize high-risk cat contact. Children and people with compromised immune systems are at risk for CSD complications. They may benefit from avoiding playtimes with kittens more likely to carry the disease. Always wash cat bites and scratches with soap and warm water to minimize the risk of infection.