Cat Scratch Disease: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

A form of bacterial infection, cat scratch fever is caused by Bartonella Henselae bacteria. The cat scratch disease affects humans, who catch it from cats. A scratch, bite, or contact with an infected cat’s saliva doubles your risk of having this the bacterial disease.

You can catch the infection if an infected cat licks an open wound, as the bacteria live in the kitty’s saliva.  The bacteria hide in the mouth of kittens and cats for months and can be easily transmitted from one kitty to another by fleas. There is no evidence that can prove a direct connection between humans contracting the bacteria directly from fleas.

How Are Cats Infected?

Flea bites and droppings may make a kitty infected with B. henselae. If your feline friend scratches or bites at the fleas, her nails may pick up the infected flea dirt. Additionally, they may pick the dirt between their teeth or get infected by fighting with infected cats.

Humans can pick up the infection when an infected kitty bites or scratches them so much that the activity breaks their skin cover. Or you may catch the infection when an infected cat licks your wounds, injuries, or scabs.

Most cats with bartonellos is infection do not exhibit any specific signs of illness. However, in rare cases, the cats get very sick with breathing difficulty due to inflammation of the heart. The infection may develop in the mouth, eyes, or urinary system, making some other cat organs inflamed.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a majority of cats carry the bacteria at some point of time in their lives, especially when young, though it is for a short period. The veterinarian can test your kitty to find if she is carrying the bacteria.

Cat Scratch Disease Symptoms

Your doctor will perform a physical examination on you to diagnose signs of a large spleen. For an accurate diagnosis, the doctor may ask you to undergo an indirect fluorescent antibody (IFA) blood test. This will give them a clear picture of bacterial infection in your body.

The doctor may require a complete history to learn about your exposure to cats. They may even request a serologic test for immunoglobulin G antibody to B. henselae.

Some of the common cat scratch fever symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Low-grade fever
  • Rashes
  • Headache
  • Reddish round bump
  • Swollen lymph nodes near the site of cat bite or scratch
  • General malaise
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain
  • A small blister that resembles a bug bite at the site of cat bite or scratch (develops several days after a cat bite)
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea

Other symptoms may include:

  • Weight loss
  • Appetite loss
  • Sore throat

An inoculation lesion is a small blister or bump that develops at the scratch or bite site.. This is the site where the bacteria enter your body. These painless lesions are commonly found on the head, in the arms, on hands, or on the scalp. As a result of the bite or scratch, the lymph nodes near the inoculation lesion will become swollen and tender within a couple of weeks.

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Your underarm or neck area is where the swollen lymph nodes are more likely to appear, depending on the inoculation lesion site. The skin over the inflamed lymph nodes may feel warm and red, which is a common symptom of the cat scratch disease. Fever is more common among kids suffering from bartonellosis. The fever is usually less than 101°F.

Cat Scratch Disease Complications


If the bacteria responsible for cat scratch disease spread to the brain, it could result in a brain disease, known as encephalopathy. In severe cases of infection, it could result in permanent damage to the brain while death is a possibility in severe cases.


When the bacteria B. henselae travels to the eye, it causes inflammation of the optic nerve and retina, which causes blurred or impaired vision.


The condition occurs when the bacterial infection affects the bones of a person suffering from cat scratch disease. Osteomyelitis may cause permanent bone damage, which may require amputation.

Parinaud Oculoglandular Syndrome

A type of eye infection resulting from the bacteria traveling to the eye, Parinaud oculoglandular syndrome has symptoms similar to pink eye. Cat scratch fever is one of the most common causes of the syndrome. An antibiotic therapy may be prescribed for the severe infection while some patients may need to undergo surgery for the removal of infected eye tissues.

Cat Scratch Disease Treatment

Treatment of cat scratch disease depends on the symptoms. The swollen lymph nodes may take 2 to 4 months to heal, or even last much longer. Some of the rare symptoms of cat scratch disease include infections of the liver, bones, spleen, joints, or lungs, severe headache, and acute confusion. While most patients do not require antibiotics, a few tend to develop symptoms of dissemination to the liver, eye, spleen, or central nervous system and may need to be on an antibiotic therapy to treat the infection.

  • Wash cat bites and scratches immediately.
  • Wash hands after playing with kitty, especially homes with young children or those with low
  • Although cat scratch disease is not a serious problem, complications may occur in people with a compromised immune system.
  • Most people do not even require any treatment for catch scratch fever and the symptoms lessen over a period of time. Some others feel better with antibiotics. However, those who suffer from complications may need immediate medical attention.

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