How to Treat Cat Bites and Cat Bite Infections

Cat bites happen for a few reasons (which we’ll explore here). How do you treat cat bites and how can you prevent cat bites? What about cat bite infections?

Cat being encouraged to bite. Photo by Shutterstock
Cat being encouraged to bite. Photography by Bogdan Sonjachnyj / Shutterstock.

I had never been bitten by a cat before I started volunteering at a cat shelter last summer. I’d been nipped at, sure, but never to the point of broken skin. However, none of the cats who bit me meant to do me harm — which is an important thing to remember in my position of continuing to care for them, even with fresh wounds. All those cat bites were from kitties who had simply gotten overstimulated. They’re living in an environment with the ever-changing sounds and smells of 130 other cats, so it’s easy to see how cat bites happen.

My experience with cat bites

Cat bites on a hand.
Cat bites on a hand. Photography courtesy Andee Bingham.

The first cat to bite me was Miles, an enormous black beauty who had been caged for health issues. While cleaning his cage, he was rubbing against my hands and headbutting my elbows. He was new to my area of the shelter, and I was excited to have some good bonding time with him. Then, behind me, there was a scuffle between two free-roaming cats. I turned my head to see what all the fuss was about, and Miles bit me on the back of my neck. This bite was mild; he barely broke the surface of my skin. It was more of a deep scrape, really. Still, it startled me, and, of course, OUCH!

When Miles bit me, I didn’t know anything about cat bites. And because that cat bite didn’t get infected, I stayed oblivious about cat bites for a while. Then, about a week later, Rigel bit me. I was scratching him on his sweet orange-spotted head, behind his ears. He was loving it, loving it, loving it, until he didn’t love it anymore and sunk his teeth into my hand like a snake would.

One tooth went into the palm-side of my hand, at the base of my thumb, and another tooth punctured a similar spot on the other side of my thumb. I knew it was bad the second it happened, as pain shot up my arm and made my hand throb.

My instinct with the cat bite was to wash it, smear it with an antibiotic ointment, and bandage it up.

When cat bites get infected

Cat bites on a hand.
This cat bite wound might be infected. Always see a medical professional if you suspect your cat bite wound is infected. Photography courtesy Andee Bingham.

I wasn’t concerned about the cat bite until the next day, when I removed the bandage. What I found was that the base of my thumb was a bit swollen (nothing too dramatic, but certainly noticeable), the area was pink, warm to the touch and painful. As a freelancer who often struggles to eat, let alone see a doctor, I don’t have health insurance (I play emergency-roulette every time I leave my apartment). I kept the punctures clean and smeared with a triple-antibiotic ointment, and I changed the bandages twice per day — keeping a close eye on the brewing cat bite infection to make sure it didn’t get worse.

After a few days the swelling went down, the redness receded and the area became less tender. I was lucky.

Treatment for cat bites — how to prevent cat bite infections

“Because cat bites carry the risk of infection, they shouldn’t be taken lightly,” Dawn Quinn, a registered nurse, advises. “You can lessen your chances of developing an infection by washing your wound with antibacterial soap thoroughly and immediately. If you have peroxide or Betadine on hand, you may use either to disinfect your wound.”

Quinn says that deep-puncture wounds from cat bites might bleed, and that you should apply pressure to stop the bleeding, then apply a clean bandage. She also recommends visiting urgent care or an emergency room.

“A course of oral antibiotics is almost always prescribed in the case of deep-puncture wounds,” she says. “Depending on the circumstances of your bite, you may need to think about rabies or tetanus infection, and a health-care provider can help you evaluate your level of risk.”

What to know about cat bites and infections

“Cat bites are highly infectious,” says Quinn. “The deeper the bite, the greater the chances are that it can become infected.”

Cat bites are exceptionally dangerous and prone to infection because a cat’s needle-like teeth can push bacteria deep into flesh, tendons and joints. The small but deep puncture wounds are hard to thoroughly clean and tend to trap bacteria inside, where it quickly spreads.

Signs of infection from cat bites

According to Quinn, cat bites that are infected will be red and painful, and might have some drainage. You might see bumps or blisters. Late stages of infections from cat bites might result in fever, weakness, swollen lymph nodes, headache and a general feeling of being unwell.

What are the signals that a cat might bite?

Catnip can cause cats to act aggressively.
This cat is showing signs of aggression, which means he might bite. Photography by Alun Marchant / Shutterstock.

It’s not uncommon for cats to get overstimulated during play and lash out from excitement (though it is rarer for a family cat to lash out in a way that breaks skin). In nonplayful situations, though, there are some signals you should heed.

According to Hannah Curtain, certified veterinary technician, “The biggest red flags are the vocal signals, such as yowling or hissing. Always watch for signs of fright and offensive or defensive behavior when handling a cat. A cat in danger-mode will probably be crouched with his ears and whiskers pinned back, tail down, dilated pupils; he might be growling or yowling as a warning to stay away.”

Why do cats bite?

Remember that cats don’t inflict injury based on whether or not they “like” the person they injure, and their behavior shouldn’t be taken personally. When it comes to cat bites, they’re simply acting in self-preservation, striking if they feel threatened.

Curtain advises that “people who handle animals should approach them in a calm, confident manner, but they should be prepared to back off if the situation is too stressful for themselves or the animal. Animals can sense when a handler’s energy is off and can interpret this as a threat. Just like people, animals sometimes just need a break to cool down and then the situation can be approached again.”

Tell us: Have you ever had a rough run-in with a cat or dealt with cat bites? What about cat bite infections? Tell us about it in the comments.

Thumbnail: Photography by Bogdan Sonjachnyj / Shutterstock.

This piece was originally published in 2015.

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123 thoughts on “How to Treat Cat Bites and Cat Bite Infections”

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  2. My cat has bitten me 4 times, the last two times I was gently stroking him while he was on my knee. He is so friendly, yet if you do something he doesn’t like he’ll go for you. I don’t understand why he would while being gently stroked though, something he normally likes. Any ideas? I am wondering if he has a sore bit I inadvertently touched. If I tried to pick him up to tell him off he’d probably bite again, he doesn’t like being picked up. I did say ouch – cos it hurt a lot and is infected. We do tell him off when he does it. Not long after he still wants to get back on my knee. I don’t know what to do since I don’t want to keep taking antibiotics. When he had his last check up he was very nervous and I didn’t think vet was very thorough , might have to take him back to get checked. Advice welcome, thanks.

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  4. Joyce Dyer Kirkpatrick

    I was bitten through the knuckle of my pointer finger on my right hand in October of 2019, by my new kitten. I treated it at home for three days until the pain became unbearable and while waiting to be seen at urgent care, the finger burst open drawing fluid and blood through the top of.the knuckle. The dr performed a fasiatomy and I had to drive back the next day. Ended up with 4 surgeries and a picc line IV antibiotics for 3 weeks.

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  9. Tonight he bit me again! This is the third time in 10 days. My beautiful purebred Siberian called to me as he came to me. He talked as he led me to his bowl in the kitchen. He stopped talking when he sat in front of it. There was 1/2 of the dry food I had given him 15 minutes before. I picked up the bowl, swirled the cereal, placed the bowl back on the floor, and said the same phrases I always use when I give him his food. I talked to him a bit, he looked up at me, then stared straight ahead. I walked about 15 feet from him and he bit the back of my leg. Next he bolted down the hallway. And now it won’t stop bleeding. The last time I went to the doctor for a bite, she suggested I put him under. He purposely bites me, and then runs. I have read countless articles and have spoken with his Vet. I’ve watched and read Jackson Galaxy, cat guru. I don’t know how to get him to stop.

    1. My girl used to do this years ago, she doesn’t anymore and she absolutely adores me. Cats have thick, leathery skin. When they do this to each other it doesn’t break the skin or hurt- usually they are being playful or frustrated (they do get bored) and trying to communciate.. But I believe you are being too “submissive” with him.

      The way I got her to stop biting so hard was to IMMEDIATELY show her I was the boss, the alpha, and that behavior ia not acceptable. I have never abused or terrified my girl, but immediately after her rough bites I would pick her up under her front arms, hold her above my head high in the air, look her direcly in her eyes and say NO in a very serious, stern voice. She would get the message, calm down, narrow her eyes and then I would narrow my eyes back, say “good girl” in a calm, soothing voice and gently put her down. If she bit me hard while we were both laying down I would immediately put my hand on her head, firmly holding it in place, staring her in the eyes and say NO sternly until she relaxed and blank, then I would blink, say “good girl” in a calm voice and release my grip on her head. (I did not squeeze hard- there was no pain, I just let her know that I am much stronger than her and I am not afraid and will not tolerate that roughness). I’ve been very consistent an at 11 years old she adores me and never leaves my side. In fact the vet thought she was 6!. I also yelled OWWW! initially when she would bite, before following up with my alpha techniques. Like dogs they can learn English, and now when she starts to get a bit too rough all I need to do is say “OWW! – NO Ow!” and she immediately ceases.

      You need to show your little guy that you are his mommy- not his sister. You have not established you are in charge and what you’re willing to tolerate, and until you do he is going to bully you at times like a bratty brother does to a sister. You’re being too soft when he is being hard. We love our furbabies and cats are beautiful, but they are also prey animals in the wild.

      He will not love you any less once you’ve established dominance.. but he also needs to respect you, and that is something you must earn.

    2. Several years ago we rescued a mom cat and her six newborn kittens (just hours old–born in my neighbor’s window well). Katie was an excellent mom–she kept her kittens well fed and clean. As the kittens grew, we helped feed the kittens in order to give her a break. She became a beautiful cat and her kittens were just as gorgeous. During all this time, I would watch Katie with her kittens and I learned a lot about parenting from her. Mother cats do NOT hesitate to correct. Katie turned out to be a Maine Coon–bigger paws, double coat. Katie did not hesitate to whack one of her kittens if the kitten misbehaved. She hit me with that same paw twice when I was grooming her. It HURT!! My suggestion is to scruff your cat and gently shake him (with all 4 of his paws on the floor). During the shaking, which should last just a couple of seconds, tell him FIRMLY “no.” Then ignore him. And do not continue to give in to his crying at the bowl. It is a form of control. You are the boss and the provider. Once he figures out that any type of biting is not permitted and you will ignore him, he will stop. Only give him attention when you want to give him attention. And, get yourself another vet. To euthanize a cat because it bites is not the answer. Also, is he neutered? A cat that is not neutered or spay tends to be more aggressive. Give him more play time and then feed him. But you are the boss. Act like one.

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  11. This cat was adopted by my mum, he came to our home a year ago and he loves me. I’m in charge of feeding him because my mum can not do it. He likes to rub his body against my legs so one day I did not see him and stepped on his tail and he gave me a big bite on my leg. I immediately wash the area and put some antibiotic cream on it. Now I’m just worried about getting the wound infected.

    He likes to hunt birds and mice but most of the time he eats his biscuits so should I worry about him transmitting any disease to me?

    1. Catster Admin

      Hi Carmen,

      Thanks for reaching out! Please reach out to a medical professional in person to have your bite appropriately evaluated.

  12. I hope you were able to take care of your wound. It’s been a few days so if it’s showing any sign of infection you should see a doctor. If not then you’ll probably be fine.

    One of my cats bit me a few weeks ago. It’s still a bit sore which is why I was looking up information about cat bites. However, I did see a doctor for another reason and they looked at the bite and said it wasn’t infected and not to worry. I guess I should figure that even with a small bite my finger took damage so it’s going to hurt a bit now and then.

  13. Yes, I’m on day 2 in the hospital for a cat bite to my hand. My kitty is indoor only and vaccinated. Leaving to go to work and he bolted out the door when he saw the neighborhood cat. He never caught up to the other cat but was still pretty agitated when I scooped him up…bit me in my hand…deep puncture wounds that quickly became infected. I waited 24 hours to go to ER. I had no idea all the things that could happen. SO eye opening. Luckily I don’t need surgery. 48 hours of antibiotics thru pills and I.v. I can leave tomorrow. I still love my cat.

    1. My sweet boy bit me 2 weeks ago right above the wrist. One puncture was squirting blood! I went to Urgent Care 12 hours later and it had already turned into cellulitis. My hand looked like a big pink balloon. Got an antibiotic injection and was on oral antibiotics for 10 days. Everything is pretty much back to normal except that there’s a marble hard small protrusion at that one puncture site. So still on watch, I guess. He’s gotten me a couple of other times over the 9 years I’ve had him and the bites never turned into an infection. Probably depends on the site, how deep, etc. And luck of the draw?
      Many years ago a different cat bit me right on a finger knuckle – that turned into the same deal. Finger like a big sausage!

  14. Margaret Curry

    My son and I rescued a feral kitten from a van’s engine. After 20mins on his back under the van, he handed the kitten out. She seemed calm, considering, so I scooped her up. She proceeded to Chomp into the tip of my index finger over and over. When I was finally able to get my finger out of her mouth, we bundled her into a shirt and she calmed right down.
    We washed of my finger and squeezed it to make it bleed to flush out as much as possible. All in all, 20 holes in the tip of my finger. It got a little temp but I soaked it in hydrogen peroxide and kept it medicated and covered. All better now. ????
    We took her home and named her Kia,???? after the van we rescued her from. ❤️

  15. my cat bit me on my leg (my cat has rabies vaccine). Its have been 6 days and its still hurts. the area still swollen red and purple. what should I do ? wound closed up but the skin around it still swollen. how do I treat it? I used just leave it and it would go away in a few days but this bite doesn’t.

    1. Definitely go to the doc immediately. As it was described to me- cats teeth are like needles and taper off. Even though the surface may be healed up, the puncture wounds may still exist under and be infected.

      1. our 2 year old cat got her back leg stuck under a door during some rough play with her siblings. I heard her screaming and went to rescue her. Mistake. Multple bites on left hand and scratches on both. ER after a few hours 6 day hospital stay and surgery. It was the most painful experience that ive ever gone through. Saddest part was the reaction from others about what we should do with her. Keep her. Love her. Be careful

  16. My cat, adopted by me as a “senior”, often bites me when I have been petting her and then I stop. It’s usually just a nip that doesn’t break the skin, but there have been times when she has given me a good hard, blood-drawing chomp. She is extremely sociable and affectionate, and immediately approaches visitors, asking to be petted. She has never been aggressive with me or guests, but I wonder about the “love bites” she gives me. How unusual is this kind of behavior?

  17. On a cat bite that may even be just a nip, it is important to clean and care for the wound as Catster stated. Let me add that even the smallest nip is important. That said one needs to moniter your bit area and swelling….. Should you find that you are observing red streaks coming from the bit area and extending up the arm , one should immediately see your Dr. This is an indication that your infection is not being controlled and starting to move through your body. It is important to address and stop the infection prior to moving into the chest/ heart area which can be extremely dangerous to you.

  18. Many years ago my cat had to have emergency surgery for chronic bladder blockage. When I took him home on a Saturday, they forgot to send pain meds and I stupidly thought he had had some at the vet and would be all right. The next morning when I went to feed him and clean his cage, he was out of his mind in pain and attacked the first thing he could–my finger. I luckily had my vet’s home number and got her to meet me at the vet’s office which was closed because of the weekend. She took one look at my hand and said go straight to the ER–now! I am thankful for that because my only concern at the moment was my cat and not myself. I went back home, gave him some pain meds and headed to the ER–by that time it was over double in size. They took me in and immediately went to some deep cleaning which required sticking a needle filled with solution into the wounds to flush them out. Long story short, I spent the entire day there and this is pain I would never wish oh my worst enemy. The swelling was unbelievable.
    I couldn’t bend the finger easily for weeks and still had pain a yr later. Cat bites are serious. If you get bitten, do not wait and see how it goes–it is easier to treat and you will have better results if you go ASAP.

  19. I have my Tootsie, last Nov. Today is his 4th month old. I always lock him in his cage every night. He always toyed (bite & bite) my dog they are always together when his out of he cage.
    I was bitten maybe morethan 3 times. I just wash it and clean with far the scratches healed. I do know if i need to see a doctor and got shot. (Never tried) i hope my cat will learn how to not bite. I think i need to change the way i treated him when he was aggressive. Or maybe he was thinking all people in the house was like my dog.. i dont know.

    1. Please be aware at only four months old, you have an energetic KITTEN that wants to play, play, play. If you spend a lot of time playing with your kitten and burning energy, there will be less chance of it biting. But that is how they play fight with their siblings, so it is instinctual.
      Don’t play with your hands, it only thinks your hand is “bait” then. Play with dangly toys on a string.
      I’m curious as to why you lock it in a carrier at night? Cats love to stroll around the house at night!

      1. I rescued a litter of motherless kittens (5) from my neighborhood a couple of years ago. I already had 2 dogs who were not cat friendly. I used large dog crates for them as a tool for getting the dogs used to them and to learn to accept them. At first I only let the cats out after I secured the dogs in another room. The cats would get a couple of hours out at a time during the day. Eventually after about 3 months I was able to let everybody be free in the house with supervision but at night the kittens slept in their cages. I continued to cage them at night until they were almost 2 years old at which point I decided that the dogs had fully accepted the cats and it was safe to eliminate the cages entirely. Cages can be invaluable training tools and provide safety. They just need to be used appropriately and never over used.

        1. Currently dealing with cat bite (anterior & posterior of thumb as in article) that within hours showed infection & within 12 hours was so swollen had to go to Emergency room. They say it takes less than 2 hours for infection to set in! Also let it bleed to help some of the yuk out while you clean with soap n water for at least 5 minutes. Use of alcohol or peroxide is no longer promoted and you do not want to seal infection in so no neosporin etc initially, and no epsom soak or soaks at all.
          Heavy duty oral meds are initial line of treatment (I’m allergic to preferred first line meds so have to take 2 antibiotics). My hand was swollen, red, painful & already had a red line going up my arm within 12 hours even though home treatment protocol was followed correctly (ex-nurse). Teeth went in deep enough that as stated in article there was no way to get all yukky infectious material from kitty’s mouth out.
          Thank goodness mom’s cat & myself are both up to date on vaccines.
          Bottomline: Cat bites are wicked. Not that other animal bites are any better (dogs, lizards, snakes etc). So don’t fool around….clean it & get it checked out at first signs of infection.

    2. Always remember cats are not dogs and should be treated totally different. And, cats are nocturnal and locking them in a cage at night will just promote their anxiety as this is the time they love to explore and play most. Check with Jackson Galaxy from Animal Planet as he is a wonderful cat behaviorist ans has taught me so much about the species.

  20. Today february 1,2019 i take him in for shower when finish i let him dry with cloth, and suddenly he bite me in my hand, it’s too hard and the wound is verry deepand bleeding. So run and wash it in the faucets and go directly to emergency and i got shut of anti rabies.

  21. We got two barn kittens, I could hold them both in one hand. They spent most of the winter in the garage, and came in the house almost daily for cuddling. They are so big now they can hardly both sit in my lap at one time. We took them to the vet for spay and neutering. The Tom has now bitten me twice. Always sitting in my lap purring while I pet and scratch him. I think he likes being close, but think I need to wear long sleeves when holding him. He has funny markings and looks like a BobCat with a long tail, he even walks/runs like a wild cat. What are the odds he’s a mix?

    1. Hi there,
      We suggest taking your cat to a vet to get the best sense of the breeds / mix of breeds. Thanks for caring for these kitties!

  22. I was “Adopted” by a Feral Cat; I took him to the Vet, got all his shots (He was fixed) to the tune of $280.00 ;Usually cuddly , he comes and goes as he pleases Gets into scraps with other feral cats, sleeps on my lap by the TV and cuddles on the bed at night, again coming and gong. Fun for two years-I think he’s about three. The past few weeks, though, he has become aggressive from time to time. Gave me a nasty bite three weeks ago, than last week suddenly chomped down on my hand making me bleed profusely. Happily no infection. Another attempt last night-though he missed. SO I’ve put him out of the house-Three times is NOT a “Charm”, and I can’t risk infection. Really sad, but …….?

    1. Hi there,

      Please take your cat to the vet ASAP so that you can rule out any medical conditions. And please keep your kitty inside! These articles might provide some insight, too:

  23. Woundcare treatment of cat bites are need to be taken seriously as these felines have bacteria which can cause serious health issues. Thanks a lot for sharing this blog.

  24. I had been nipped by cats before, but never experienced the pain of true bites until I began fostering this year. The pain from a cat biting through muscles and tendons is indescribable! I’ve been lucky so far with no infections, but stupidly put my bare foot between fighting cats today and got a nice bite on my big toe joint! Ouch! The throbbing pain is worse than labor!

      1. I’ve just got out of hospital today after a 2 night stay from a cat bite to my hand. I stupidly picked my cat up when he was having a fight to stop him hurting my neighbours cat!
        I never realised how serious a cat bite could be!
        Antibiotics by IV for 2 days and luckily escaped an operation! Very scary times! My poor cats are happy to have me home and I feel sad for leaving them for 2 days ????

    1. I’m glad you came out of it without infection !
      Right now I’m going through the same I put my arm stop my cat from fighting a stray cat and he attacked me and bit me on my arm
      Went to Er got rabies and taking antibiotics..
      Cleaning the wound at home as well but the pain in my arm is unbearable it’s so stiff and swollen that I can’t move my hand..
      Maybe it is because that my cat punctured my arm very deep…

  25. Our cat has bitten me twice, the first time I washed the wound and put thieves oil on it, it never got infected. She did it again today but worse, I have done the same hoping for no infection. She is an indoor only cat.

  26. Our 4 year old Siamese will occasionally (seems to happen about once a year) bite me aggressively on the bottom of my bare foot, causing puncture wounds. It’s always a complete surprise and happens while I’m just on the floor stretching or on the couch with my foot near the edge. I really wish I could figure out why she does this.

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