Cat scratch fever – can your cat make you sick?

Cat scratch fever sounds a bit like something from an episode of House, the popular series about a doctor who can diagnose just about anything. While not common, it can happen. Here’s what you need to know.

What is cat scratch fever?

Also known as cat scratch disease, it is a bacterial infection caused by Bartonella henselae, which is a very common bacterium. It is possible to get cat scratch fever when bitten or scratched by an infected cat. You are also at risk if saliva from an infected cat gets into an open would on your body, or if it comes into contact with the whites of your eyes. Anyone who has contact with cats is at risk, especially if you have a weakened immune system.

What are the symptoms in cats?

Cats can carry the Bartonella bacteria without getting sick from it, so it’s difficult to tell whether they are infected. It is most common in kittens, but if you are really concerned, your vet can test for the presence of the bacteria.

What are the symptoms in humans?

Common symptoms:

  • A bump or blister at the bite or scratch site
  • Swollen lymph nodes near the bite or scratch site
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • A low-grade fever

Less common symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Sore throat

How can I prevent cat scratch fever?

Avoid rough play with your cat that could lead to bites and scratches. Rather use toys to keep your cat active and busy. Always wash your hands after playing with your cat, and be sure to treat her for fleas once a month.

There is good news!

Unless you have a compromised immune system, cat scratch fever is generally not serious. In serious cases your doctor might prescribe antibiotics. In most cases you will heal by yourself, without any treatment. Your cat is not a threat to your health but, if you are concerned, rather be safe than sorry, and make an appointment with your general practitioner.