How Cat Scratch Fever Tarnished My Cat’s Reputation


Traveling can be stressful. It gets worse when you are stuck at the airport for hours. After 10 days on the road, my boyfriend and I just wanted to get home, say hello to our cat James, and let his soothing purrs melt our anger away.

Happy meows welcomed us home. But really all James wanted to do was play. He was full of energy and didn’t care one bit how tired and jet lagged we were. Feeling guilty, we succumbed to his desire and played fetch for a few minutes. Then we said goodnight.

James was not ready to sleep. And boy did he show us.

Caution: Ignoring your cat may cause pain

I am sure the signs were there: big eyes, ears pulled back, paw raised. In the darkness of the room all I could feel was the cat jumping on the bed and Tony, my boyfriend, moving to pet him. The sound that came next shook even the squirrels sleeping in the trees. James bit Tony on the wrist.

“Don’t be such a baby!” I said, “we’ll clean it up and put a bandage on it.”

That is my procedure every time I receive a cat bite. The cat was expressing his feline anger, and we in our sleepiness misunderstood the signs.

The next day Tony woke up with one dramatically inflated hand. OMG. I mean, it was twice the size of his other hand and by the look on his face, very painful. He was feverish and achy all over. Oh dear, could it be? Really? A trip to the doctor confirmed our suspicion: cat scratch fever. (Go ahead, sing the song, I know you want to.)

I felt guilty but also confused. I mean, how come I have never gotten such a reaction from a cat bite? Turns out that most people have the antibodies to fight the infection without suffering any of the big symptoms. But there is quite a big number (more than 22,000 in America alone) that do get sick from it. As a child, Tom was highly allergic to cats but has grown out of it. Apparently, though, it wasn’t complete.

I also wondered: How is it that a totally indoor cat can even spread the disease? The answer: WE cause the problem. We go outside and bring the fleas into the house. The same flea will contaminate our innocent kitty with the Bartonella Henselae bacteria, which then resides in his body, releasing its power through the cat’s bite. Lovely.

The aftermath

It took 10 days on antibiotics for Tony’s hand to get back to normal size. After a few days of extra sweet behavior, James was back to napping on Tony’s lap. Dealing with the outside world, though, turned out to be a different situation.

The story spread like wildfire among our friends and family, burning up a clear divisive line: Those who spoke cat understood what happened and held no grudges against our kitty, but the ones who don’t have pets went so far as to suggest that we get rid of the cat, using the explanation that if we had a Pit Bull and he bit us, the sane path would be to take the dog to the pound.

Our poor James’ reputation was destroyed. Now nicknamed Mr. Bitey, he is a pariah at our parties. How do we solve this problem? How do we bring back the love?

I know that cat scratch fever is no laughing matter. It is a serious infection. And it can be prevented. But the fact that people will casually use it as an excuse to throw away the cat left me more disturbed, sadly, than Tony’s painfully ballooned hand.

What do you think about this? Have you been in this situation? Let us know in the comments please.

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