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How to Treat a Cat Scratch: 6 Vet-Reviewed Crucial Steps

scratch on a man's hand made by a cat
Image Credit: osobystist, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 29, 2023 by Nicole Cosgrove

Vet approved

	Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM) Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM)


The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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It’s no secret that our kitties love using their claws! Whether it’s for play, balance, hunting, or climbing, they work best with the claws out. However, if you come in the way, it won’t fare well for your fragile skin.

We all know that kitty claws can have their fair share of bacteria that could potentially cause infection, so cleaning out cuts thoroughly will prevent bigger issues and heal you in no time.

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The 6 Steps for How to Treat a Cat Scratch

1. Don’t Wait

Your cat spends their days traipsing around in their litter boxes, and we all know how dirty the underneath of our own nails can be. If you are scratched by a cat, even if it is your own friendly feline, don’t wait to wash it out. Go immediately to give it the attention it needs.

For the sake of your safety, it is vital to treat the cut immediately as it happens. So drop whatever it is you’re doing and head to your bathroom to sanitize and disinfect.

2. Wash the Scratch With Soap & Water

woman washing her hands
Image Credit: Martin Slavoljubovski, Pixabay

Wash the scratch with soap and water immediately. Make sure to wash your hands for 30 seconds to a minute to remove any debris, bacteria, or dirt that could infect the area. Warm water and some antibacterial soap should work just fine to clean the scratch.

3. If Bleeding, Use Gauze

If you are bleeding badly, apply a piece of gauze or cotton to the wound. Use a good amount of pressure to stop the bleeding quicker.

4. Use Antibiotic Ointment

Image Credit: Jumpstory

You can use over-the-counter antibiotic ointments without a prescription from your doctor. Antibiotic ointment is optional, but it is a nice preventative. Superficial scratches might not need this, but if you have any bleeding, it might be a good idea to try.

5. Watch for Signs of Infection

In most cases, scratches should heal within a few days to about a week. Deeper scratches can take longer. Despite the severity of the scratch, always look for signs of infection. After a few days, you must contact your doctor if you start noticing swollen lymph nodes, worsening at the site, fever, and other signs. Your doctor will assess the damage and then antibiotics if necessary.

6. Consult a Professional

man consulting to a doctor
Image Credit: Max, Pixabay

After any cat scratch, it’s time to contact your doctor. Explain the situation to them and see if they want to run any testing or have any medical recommendations to follow as you heal.

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Zoonotic Diseases

Sometimes, kitties can pass things to us without meaning to. The results can be the same whether the scratch was out of fear or during play. When cats transfer any type of disease to humans, it is referred to as a zoonotic disease.

Thankfully, there aren’t many things cats can pass to us, but we still have to be mindful of the possibilities.

Cat Scratch Fever

Cat Scratch Fever, also known as Cat Scratch Disease, is caused by a bacteria called Bartonella. This particular bacteria is transmitted through bites and scratches. Cats get this bacteria in their systems by being bitten by an infected flea or through their feces.

In addition to being bitten and scratched, Bartonella can also infect humans if a cat licks a person’s open wound.

Signs of cat scratch fever include:

  • Swelling
  • Redness at the site
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever

While it might not sound serious, 12,000 people are annually diagnosed with cat scratch fever, and of those 12,000, 500 are hospitalized. If cat scratch fever is untreated, it can lead to enlargement of the spleen, thickening of heart valves, and encephalitis.

Healthy adults are generally able to recover from cat scratch fever just fine. However, that might not be the case if you have a compromised immune system. Signs typically go away within 3 weeks of infection.

The only good thing is once you get cat scratch fever, you’re unlikely to contract it again.

a sick balinese cat
Image Credit: beka venezia, Shutterstock


A bacterial infection of the skin can itch severely and pass from feline to person. Typically these don’t have to pass through a cat scratch. They can simply spread by skin-to-skin contact. However, if your cat scratches you, you are more likely to contract the infection, permitting they’re carrying it.

Signs of ringworm include:

  • Itchy skin
  • Ring-shaped rash
  • Hair loss in the affected area
  • Cracked, seepy skin

Most generally, your doctor can prescribe you an antifungal medication to eliminate a ringworm infection.

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Preventing Infection

The number one way to prevent serious infection is to ensure your cat is treated with annual flea and tick prevention. These parasite repellents come in both topical and oral medications. You can also exercise good cleaning habits, ensuring your floors and fabrics are vacuumed.

Good housekeeping and veterinary preventatives will ensure your cat does not become infected with fleas and you don’t get an infection subsequently. Keeping your cat’s claw trimmed further helps reduce the severity of scratches.

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So, when you get bitten by a cat, your first response is to stop whatever you’re doing and get that wound clean. You don’t want to leave it open to the elements any longer than necessary, as harmful bacteria could be on your cat’s claws.

Don’t instinctively put the scratched part of your body into your mouth, as you could ingest harmful bacteria. Also, never let your cat lick your wound, which could increase the chances of contracting cat scratch fever.

If you notice any fever or signs starting soon after the scratch, go to your doctor immediately.

Featured Image Credit: osobystist, Shutterstock

About the Author

Ashley Bates
Ashley Bates
Ashley Bates is a freelance dog writer and pet enthusiast who is currently studying the art of animal therapy. A mother to four human children— and 23 furry and feathery kids, too – Ashley volunteers at local shelters, advocates for animal well-being, and rescues every creature she finds. Her mission is to create awareness, education, and entertainment about pets to prevent homelessness. Her specialties are cats and dogs.

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