Cat scratch disease
Cat scratch disease (CSD) is spread through being scratched or, less commonly, bitten by a cat infected with the bacterium responsible for the disease (Bartonella henselae). It is sometimes known as cat scratch fever.
It seems that kittens are more likely to cause the problem than full-grown cats, perhaps because of their more playful nature. As well as from a bite or scratch, people can also be infected if a cat licks the person's open wounds. Being infected with Bartonella henselae does not seem to affect your cat or kitten adversely in any way.
Symptoms of cat scratch disease
A variety of symptoms can occur when this infection is present. After a few days or up to 2 weeks, it may become apparent that the bite or scratch site is infected. The site may be swollen, red and sore. It may have one or more raised spots. These may be crusted. Usually there will be swollen glands (lymph nodes), which may remain swollen for several months and may be painful. Glands in the axilla (armpit), neck or groin are the ones most often affected. At the beginning of the illness there may be a fever, headache, tiredness and loss of appetite.
How is cat scratch disease diagnosed?
The diagnosis of cat scratch disease is not always easy, particularly if the person doesn't remember, or didn't notice, being injured by a cat. A flu-like illness lasting a few days may have been forgotten and it is only the presence of persistently swollen glands that causes the affected person to seek medical advice. Your doctor may feel to see if you have an enlarged spleen. Blood tests and a biopsy (taking a sample) of the swollen glands may be needed to confirm CSD.
Treatment for cat scratch disease
Most cases do not need treatment, but long lasting or more serious infections will require a course of antibiotics. People who have a compromised immune system, such as those on chemotherapy or with HIV/AIDS are more at risk of a serious infection.
Anyone with persistently swollen glands should seek medical advice. If you own a cat you should remember to tell your doctor — it may make your doctor's job easier. A person will normally recover in 2-5 months. This bacteria does not make cats sick, and they do not require any treatment. You cannot give cat scratch disease to another person.
There are serious complications that can result from cat scratch disease, if the infection travels to the brain, bone or eye.
Why does my cat have this infection?
More than a third of cats carry this infection at some time in their lives, but they don't show any signs of illness. They get infected from flea bites and flea droppings getting into their wounds. Kittens are more likely to be infected than adult cats.
Make sure you avoid your cat getting fleas by using an anti-flea product and keeping up to date with it. Avoid play that may result in you getting scratched or bitten, but if you are, wash any cat scratches or bites well with soap and running water. It's a good idea to wash your hands after playing with your cat anyway, as the bacterium that causes cat scratch disease can live on the cat's fur. Especially, don't let a cat lick your wounds, even a scratch.
Last Reviewed: 25/09/2015
1. CDC. Cat-scratch disease. April 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases/cat-scratch.html (Accessed Sept 2015).
2. PatientPlus. Cat Scratch Disease. May 2015. http://patient.info/doctor/cat-scratch-disease (accessed Sept 2015).
3. SA Health. Cat scratch disease - including symptoms, treatment and prevention. http://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/public+content/sa+health+internet/health+topics/health+conditions+prevention+and+treatment/infectious+diseases/cat+scratch+disease (accessed Sept 2015).