How To Treat A Cat Scratch


Most cat owners from one time or another will encounter a cat scratch or two. The majority of these will heal within a few days, and there will be no more thought given to it. But the young daughter of a friend recently spent several days in hospital undergoing a battery of tests; the diagnosis was cat scratch disease.

We have already covered this topic in another article, but I thought it was a good idea to raise the issue of cat scratches and how their treatment.

Scratch transmitted diseases

  • Cat scratch disease (children and immunocompromised people are at higher risk, but anybody can become infected)
  • Abscess
  • Localised infection
  • Cellulitis
  • Tetanus
  • Plague (in certain countries)


Avoiding scratches in the first place is your first line of defence. Breaking up cat fights and playing rough with your cat are the two most common causes of cat scratches. Firstly cat fights when they occur the cats are incredibly agitated and wound up. The pet owner rushes in to break it up and gets a nasty scratch (or bite) for their troubles. If you come across a cat fight, you should never use yourself to break it up. You WILL get hurt. Either throw a towel over the cats or use a broom and gently pry them apart. Remember too, even though you may have successfully split them up, they will still be extremely wound up. Do not try to calm your cat(s) down by stroking them; they are likely to strike out. Give them a little time to calm down.

Playing rough is another way to get scratched. Just don’t do it. A cat scratch may not be all that painful when it happens, but it’s not worth the risk.

Bathing a cat:

Most cats don’t like water, but sometimes you may need to give your cat a bath (I never have, but I’m sure situations occur such as poisons on the fur etc.). If you must bath your cat, use caution. Have a second person to help where possible. Wear a long-sleeved top and long rubber gloves, wear long pants. Be careful with your face; try not to get it too close to your cat.

Be extremely careful handling a sick or injured cat:

They may usually be docile, but when they’re hurt, they don’t always know what they are doing and may lash out. Get a second person to help you and wrap in a towel if necessary.

The skin is our first line of defence; any break in it allows bacteria and other nasties to enter the body. Avoiding scratches, therefore, is the best way to reduce your chances of developing an infection. You should also never let a cat lick you, especially if you have cuts or chapped skin.

How to treat a cat scratch

Even if you only receive a small scratch, it is vital you treat it immediately.

  • Apply pressure with a clean towel to the scratch to stop bleeding.
  • Wash it thoroughly with antibacterial soap and warm water.
  • Apply disinfectant such as Betadine.
  • Apply a sterile gauze or bandage if necessary.

Keep a close eye on the wound. Any sign of inflammation, redness, heat, pus, infection and go straight to your doctor.

When to see a doctor

  • If you have not had a recent tetanus shot
  • If you are immunocompromised
  • If the scratch was from an unknown cat
  • If you experience pain, swelling, discharge, swollen or painful lymph nodes or fever
  • The wound does not stop bleeding after 5 minutes of pressure
  • If you develop flu-like symptoms

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.


  • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

    Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio

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