Cat bites are NO JOKE.

Public service announcement/pity party post:

Soooo… yesterday morning, I tried to prevent a catfight in our car port. I was partially successful, because our two sweet daily visitors got away unharmed… but their yowling rival wanted blood, and my leg was the next best thing.

Tooth holes

After scrambling onto my car to evade an orange tornado of claws and teeth, I found four tooth-deep holes in my calf. Syringe-flushing them out with hydrogen peroxide was excruciating, but I didn’t want to be a baby (or pay a fortune), so I decided to wait it out and keep writing and hope I cleaned out all the bacteria myself. Preventive antibiotics are a bad idea anyway, right? Don’t want to build up my resistance for no reason.

Then I decided to google “deep cat bite”.

Friends, if you ever get bitten by a cat and you can afford a clinic visit but you’re not sure whether it’s necessary… go. Just go.

Many of the sources were questionable at best (that’s what you get when cat-loving know-it-alls start message boards), but they all said the same thing: cat bites have sky-high infection rates, and the deeper the bite, the worse your odds get. Why?

A few reasons:

  • Most cats’ mouths contain pasteurella multocida (the same bacteria strain that people VERY rarely catch by cleaning litter boxes)… and if it’s basically injected into your body via cat tooth, it can spread through your blood and tissue very quickly
  • Deep bites are so small (in circumference) that they close quickly, trapping dirt and bacteria inside your body
  • Deep bites are often impossible to clean out completely, even if you act immediately
  • Stray/outdoor cat bites pretty much require medical treatment (this one’s probably a no-brainer to everyone except me)

I also learned that the fluids still bubbling under my skin could actually be making it harder to heal. According to this medical journal study — I wouldn’t be spreading this info if it weren’t peer-reviewed — hydrogen peroxide destroys tissue and skin cells, inhibiting the healing process at best and eating away at your flesh at worst.

So obviously, I finally gave in and looked up my walk-in clinic co-pay. Way cheaper than expected (thanks Obama). I’d even finished the day’s assignments by then. No excuses left.

Still, I felt so stupid walking into an urgent care clinic with a few tiny holes in my leg. It looked laughably minor. At least “Family Feud” was on in the waiting room, distracting me from my own embarrassment with the schadenfreude of ridiculous guesses. When I made it into the exam room, I was still questioning my need to be there.

It was worth it, though. In fact, the PA on duty was pleasantly surprised I’d only waited a few hours to come in… I guess they usually see people who watch it get worse for a few days first.

I came pretty close to doing the same thing. But if I hadn’t gotten that tetanus shot and amoxicillin RX, I’d probably be in the ER right now… and I’d probably be paying that bill off for the next year (like last time).

Because I woke up in the middle of the night in agony… and this afternoon, the bites are embedded in a still-growing, red hot (color & temperature) lump the size of a water balloon. Compare with my normal leg:

Cat bite vs. normal leg

Clearly infected, slowly spreading, and so painful I can barely walk. Pretty much a textbook example of the following (from a veterinary group’s website):

 An infected cat bite wound will be red, swollen and painful, and the infection can spread through the surrounding tissues, causing a condition called cellulitis, or through the blood to other areas of the body, causing a condition called septicemia (often called “blood poisoning”). Infected people may suffer from fever and flu-like symptoms and, rarely, may die if proper medical treatment is not sought.

Luckily, I read the same thing yesterday. And now that I’ve had a vaccine and strong antibiotics in my system for 20 hours, I don’t have to worry about sepsis or tetanus.

I thought it was just a “better safe than sorry” thing, but nope. If I’d skipped the clinic, I would have slept without elevating my leg, and that cat bacteria would be spreading faster than it already is.

Until this week, I had NO IDEA that cat bites could be so serious. Dog bites, sure… but kitty mouths are so little! I’ve been nipped by my own cats a thousand times, but even when they get a little too wild and latch onto my hand, they’ve never broken the skin.

So now I know. And if you didn’t already, now you do too. If a cat bites you and the holes are deep, get yourself to a doctor.

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