Cat Scratch Fever: Myth or Not? 

While the term cat scratch fever may evoke images of Ted Nugent (c’mon, we know you sang it!), it’s an actual condition that can have some pretty serious implications for people!

Cat Scratch Fever is just as much a real disease as it is a late 70s rock icon, and while Beverly Hills Veterinary Associates can’t help with the radio version, we can help keep your family safe from the zoonotic disease.

The Science Behind Cat Scratch Fever

Cat Scratch Fever, more properly termed Cat-Scratch Disease (CSD), is a bacterial infection. It is considered a zoonotic disease, meaning that it can be transmitted between animals and people. 

The infection itself is caused by a bacterium known as Bartonella henselae, which is carried by about 40% of cats at some time in their lives. These cats likely have no signs of illness and most are kittens less than a year of age.

Cats become infected with Bartonella through flea bites and flea dirt. Flea dirt especially can build up at the base of the nails and teeth, aiding in transmission of disease. 

CSD is transmitted to people through breaks in the skin, either when a cat licks an open wound or bites or scratches enough to break the skin. If the Bartonella organism is present, it can enter through this break in the skin barrier and cause trouble.

Symptoms of CSD in people can include:

  • A mild infection at the site of the bite or scratch
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Decreased appetite
  • Exhaustion
  • Swollen lymph nodes

In rare instances CSD can cause more serious complications, affecting the brain, eyes, heart, and other major organs. This is most likely to occur in young or immunocompromised individuals. 

Protecting Yourself

While Cat Scratch Fever usually does not require any major interventions, it is not a disease that you want to have if at all possible. Consider the following:

  • Protect yourself and your cat by using consistent, quality flea prevention
  • Wash cat bites and scratches right away
  • Use good hygiene after handling cats, especially those you don’t know
  • Keep your cat’s nails trimmed
  • Vacuum your home frequently to help decrease existing flea populations
  • Strongly consider keeping your cat indoors
  • Call us to schedule regular wellness visits to help keep your pet healthy

Cat Scratch Fever is no myth, but thankfully it is a reality that we have the power to keep at bay. It is one more example of how good wellness care and parasite prevention can help us to enjoy the human-animal bond with low risk and ample benefits.