How to Treat a Cat Scratch

List: Posted: 08/16/11

If you have a cat, then there is a very good chance that your cat will scratch you on at least one occasion.  If it hasn’t happened yet, don’t worry, it will!  It’s not that cats are mean, but when they are frightened, upset or just playing, they will often lash out without realizing just how much damage they can do to the poor human that feeds and shelters them. 


If you have a fresh cat scratch, you need to make sure that you take care of it properly.  A cat scratch might be small, but it can contain a lot of bacteria.  Your cat uses her feet for many different tasks, including covering up waste in the litter box.  Their feet are covered in germs, and a cat scratch can give you an infection very easily.


Use Soap and Cool Water Immediately


The first thing that you need to do is rinse the cat scratch in cool water, and then gently wash it out with antibacterial soap.  The hand soap that you have in the bathroom will work fine.  


Shallow or Deep Scratch?


Assess the cat scratch. If it is raised and red (a welt) then it is just a surface wound and you can safely treat it yourself at home.  Welts often look worse than they really are, so concentrate on reducing the inflammation and it will feel and look better in no time.  Run a fresh welt under cool running water for 10-30 minutes, or wrap an ice-cube in a wet cloth or flannel and gently hold against the wound for as long as is comfortable until the swelling and redness subsides.


Apply Antibiotic Cream


If the scratch is minor, once you have washed it you should then add an antibiotic ointment, such as Neosporin, to the cut and cover it with gauze.  Tape the gauze in place and then change the bandage every day (or even sooner) if the gauze gets wet or dirty.  You want to keep the area as clean as possible to reduce the chance of an infection from the cat scratch.


When to See the Doctor


if the scratch looks very deep and the wound has 'lips' (a parted wound) you may need stitches or medical tape to close it. Clean the wound, then cover it with gauze taped in place to protect it, and see your doctor immediately in this instance. 


If you cannot see a doctor within an hour or so, apply antiseptic cream to the skin on either side of the wound (not inside it) and close the wound by applying a few strips of medical (Micropore) tape to either side. The tape should cross the wound lengthwise at the top, bottom and center and gently pull it shut.  Lots of little strips is better than one big strip.  Apply as many strips as necessary to close the wound.  Using regular sellotape is not recommended as it will stick to the wound, and the adhesive may get in the wound and cause an adverse reaction.


Minimize Scarring


If the scratch is in a very visible place such as your upper chest, neck or face, consider using a moist commercial burn dressing to reduce your chance of scarring.  Scarring happens when a wound is allowed to dry out, so by applying a waterproof, moist clinical dressing, you will minimize your chance of scarring. 


A word of caution: never use 'wet' home remedies that contain no medication such as butter or moisturizing lotion - they do not work and you will wind up with an infection.  Non-medical moisturizer should never be used on any wound, as it will contain perfume (parfum) or alcohol - both will irritate your wound and interfere with its healing.


Best Band-Aid For a Cat Scratch


The very best option for a small scratch would be to check your local drugstore for Band-Aid Activ-Flex, the most advanced band-aid you can get.  (I have used these myself for a large and deep cat scratch on my face, and they healed the cut within 3 weeks with no scarring - aside from looking a little silly!)  These band aids are made of an inert gel that is waterproof and moist and reduce the chance of scarring. 


You can leave them on for up to a week at a time.  Use in combination with Neosporin for maximum scar prevention and keep each bandage on for as long as possible to avoid disturbing the wound.

Band-Aid Tips


Don't use any kind of self-adhesive band-aid if your scratch is large or if you've had stitches.  When you remove the band aid, it may re-open the wound.


Consult Your Doctor


Check on the cat scratch each day to see how it is healing.  If the redness and tenderness persist or get worse, a trip to your physician might be necessary for a round of antibiotics.  A cat scratch on the face may scar if not treated correctly, so always see your doctor in this instance.

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