February 05, 2014
1 min read

Cat bites pose significant risk of infection, hospitalization

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While they make good pets for some people, recently published data show that cat bites to the hand carry serious risk of infection.  
“Cats’ teeth are sharp and they can penetrate very deeply, they can seed bacteria in the joint and tendon sheaths,” Brian T. Carlsen, MD, a plastic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, and colleagues wrote in the study. “It can be just a pinpoint bite mark that can cause a real problem, because the bacteria get into the tendon sheath or into the joint where they can grow with relative protection from the blood and immune system.”
Researchers studied 193 patients who had with cat bites to the hand during a 3-year period. Overall, 57 patients (30%) required hospitalization, of which the mean length of stay was 3.2 days, and 38 patients required debridement and surgical irrigation. Eight patients required multiple procedures.
Patients with bites over any joint in the hand or wrist were more likely to develop an infection than patients who had bites over the soft tissue. The mean time from instance of bite to medical care was 27 hours.
Middle-aged women were found to be the most common victims of cat bites, the researchers concluded.
“Cat bites look benign, but as we know and as the study shows, they are not. They can be very serious,” Carlsen stated.


Babovic N. J Hand Surg. 2014;doi:10.1016/j.jhsa.2013.11.003.

Disclosures: The authors have no relevant financial disclosures.