All cat owners get small bites and scratches from time to time. It is an occupational hazard when you own cats. However, if your cat bites you and the wound is deep, you should seek prompt medical attention even if your cat has a current rabies vaccination. A deep cat bite will almost immediately become infected even though you are careful to wash and disinfect the bite area. Below are the things you need to know and the steps you need to take to properly handle this situation:
1. Rabies Vaccination
Check vaccination records immediately if you are bitten by your own cat or a cat that belongs to someone you know. Rabies vaccinations are good for three years after the initial one year booster. Verify that the cat that bit you has an up-to-date rabies vaccination. Make a copy of the vaccination certificate to bring with you when you seek medical attention. Medical facilities are required by law to report cat bite incidents to the local health agency per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It will streamline the process if they know the rabies vaccination status of the cat that bit you. More importantly, it will prevent you from having to endure a series of post-exposure rabies vaccinations administered in the arm. These vaccinations will be necessary if the cat was a stray, you do not have proof of the cat’s rabies vaccination status, or the cat appeared sick at the time it bit you.
2. Tetanus Vaccination
Check the status of your own vaccinations for tetanus. If you have not had a tetanus vaccination in over 10 years, your medical facility should give you one. This is because the bacteria that cause tetanus are found everywhere on the ground outside. Cats easily come in contact with it on a daily basis. Again, make a copy for the medical facility of your tetanus vaccination record if you have one.
In addition to giving you a Tetanus shot, your medical facility should prescribe you antibiotics to take for at least ten days after a serious cat bite. They should also take a culture of the bite area at the time of your visit which they will send out for a lab analysis. Depending upon the results, you may or may not get a call from your medical facility requesting that you change antibiotics. This is because antibiotics have differing strengths and target different groups of bacteria.
4. Mandated Confinement Period
Expect a phone call and or letter shortly after the local health authority in your area receives notification of the cat bite from your medical facility. They will know whether or not the cat that bit you is current on the rabies vaccination based upon the vaccination paperwork you gave your medical facility. However, even if your cat is healthy and has a valid rabies vaccination, they are mandated by the CDC to inform you that you must confine the cat for 10 days from the bite incident date.
An inspector from the rabies control department of the local health authority could show up randomly during that time period to check on your health and the health of the cat. If the inspector deems that either you or the cat is sick (from suspected rabies), the cat may be confiscated, put down and decapitated to be tested for rabies. If it tests positive, you will have to undergo a series of post-exposure rabies vaccinations. However, it is unlikely that you will have anything to worry about if your cat has an up-to-date rabies vaccination and your bite wound is responding well to your antibiotics.
Serious cat bites require prompt medical attention. You should make sure you have proof of your cat’s rabies vaccination, your own tetanus vaccination, and that you keep the cat confined for 10 days from the bite incident date. Expect to receive a Tetanus shot if yours is not current, antibiotics and a call and/or visit from the local health authority. Also, be prepared to receive a series of post-exposure rabies vaccinations if you were bit by a stray or the local health authority deems your cat to be at risk for rabies.