Cat Bite Infection | Risks of Cat Bites to the Hand

Cat Bite Infection
Cat Bite Infection

When you think about being bitten by an animal, smaller is better, right? In the case of dogs and cats, that’s not always the case. In today’s blog post, Dr. Brandon P. Donnelly discusses why the risk of a cat bite infection has become a growing concern.

What are are the Differences between Cat and Dog Bites?

A dog’s powerful jaws and blunt teeth tend to leave a larger wound, but they don’t penetrate as deeply. Cats, meanwhile, have sharp teeth – and that dramatically increases the risk for a cat bite infection. Even though they don’t look like much, a cat’s pinpoint bite marks can inject bacteria deeply into skin and joints, opening the door for a serious infection.

Cats don’t have more bacteria in their mouths than dogs. It’s really just a function of their slender, sharp fangs. Bacteria can be potentially seeded down into joints and tendon sheaths, far away from where it would be immediately noticed. Protected from the immune system, a cat bite infection can rapidly spread.

“Misunderstanding the risk associated with a cat bite infection has led to a worrying number of hospitalizations.”Brandon P. Donnelly, MD

Cat Bite Infections on the Rise

Misunderstanding this risk has led to a worrying number of hospitalizations, as patients require surgery to clean wounds or remove tissue that’s become infected. A three-year Mayo Clinic study of nearly 200 cases between 2009-2011 found that one third of patients suffering from cat bite infections were hospitalized – and two-thirds of those patients required surgery. 

Bites that appear at first to be minor can ultimately end up requiring serious medical attention, with outcomes far worse than an apparently more damaging dog bite. While 3-18 percent of dog bites become infected, another study reported a staggering 28-80 percent cat bite infection rate.

“About 5% of patients surveyed required more than one operation, and some had to have reconstructive surgery.”Brandon P. Donnelly, MD

When To Worry

The wrist or any joint in the fingers are usually the worst places to be wounded – and that’s just where most people get bitten by cats. Small but deep punctures there led to a higher risk of hospitalization than bites into soft tissue, according to the study. 

Cat bite victims sometimes must have their wounds surgically irrigated or even have infected tissue removed, a procedure called debridement. In the Mayo Clinic study, eight of the 193 patients surveyed required more than one operation, and some had to have reconstructive surgery.

“Middle-aged women were the most common victims of cat bites to the hand.”Mayo Clinic Study

Who is at Risk?

While five- to nine-year-old males are the principal victims of dog bites, middle-aged women were the most common victims of cat bites to the hand, according to the Mayo Clinic study. Victims should be especially concerned about the risk of a cat bite infection if they develop swelling or inflamed skin. 

“Prompt medical care is required to prevent serious, even long-term complications from a cat bite infection.”
Brandon P. Donnelly, MD

Avoiding the Danger of a Cat Bite Infection

Millions of people are bitten by animals every year, mainly by dogs. Yet most animal bites are avoidable: Understanding how to interact with animals, and staying aware of any signals of aggression or fear, are both critically important. But remember, if you are bitten, prompt medical care is required to prevent serious, even long-term complications from a cat bite infection.

About Dr. Donnelly

Dr. Brandon P. Donnelly is a native of Slidell, LA. He graduated magna cum laude with a degree in biological sciences from Cornell University. After receiving his medical degree from Louisiana State University (LSU) Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, where he was awarded the Orthopedic Surgery award. 

Hand Specialist Dr. Brandon P. Donnelly on Drew Brees' Hand Rehab

Dr. Brandon P. Donnelly | Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon

Before joining Pontchartrain Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, he completed a hand and microsurgery fellowship at the prestigious Philadelphia Hand Center. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at  Louisiana State University (LSU) Health Sciences Center

Dr. Donnelly is a board certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in injuries and ailments of the hand, wrist, and elbow.

If you have a hand injury and would like to have it evaluated by our area’s leading hand specialist, contact us today to schedule an appointment.

This site is not intended to and does not provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual. Through this website and links to other websites, Brandon P. Donnelly, MD provides general information for educational purposes only. The content provided in this website and links, is not a substitute for medical care or treatment. You should not use this information in place of a consultation or the advice of your healthcare provider. Brandon P. Donnelly, MD is not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis or any other information, services or product you obtain through this site.