Cats can often be carriers of the bacteria Bartonella henselae which cause cat scratch disease. This is also known as a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transmitted to humans from infected animals. This disease usually passes in the form of a mild infection, without any symptoms.
In humans, this illness occurs most often in children and is most often transferred from a cat to a child when a cat scratches or bites the child. Between cats, the disease is transferred by fleas. Transfer of disease from fleas to people has not been reported before, nor can it be transferred between people.
In people, first visible symptoms are typically seen at the location of the scratch. The skin appears red and swollen, with bumps and blisters filled with pus. Such symptoms can last for a few weeks if untreated. The wound can progress into the lymph nodes through the blood, causing them to swell and become painful to touch. Other symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, sore throat, and loss of appetite. These changes can last for weeks or even months. The disease usually passes without the use of any medications. In rare situations, the bacteria can cause serious health problems that affect the brain, heart, liver, and bones.
The disease will most often occur in people who are frequently in contact with cats. To prevent this, cat owners should be sure to train their cats not to scratch and monitor them with children to prevent them from agitating the animal. If your cat is prone to scratching, provide them with new scratching elements and toys, to provide them that outlet and to reduce their aggression towards people.
If a cat scratches or bites you, make sure to clean and disinfect the wound as soon as possible. If you notice any changes in the skin or lymph nodes, contact your doctor. Because cats often do not show symptoms of this disease, it can be difficult to determine if your cat is infected without a trip to your veterinarian.
If your cat has a weakened immune system from another condition, Bartonella henselae can cause heart conditions. It is important to have your cat tested if you suspect they may be carrying the Bartonella henselae bacterium.
Your veterinarian can perform simple blood and skin tests to confirm the presence of the Bartonella henselae bacteria. Treatment is typically a round of antibiotics. In order to prevent this disease from spreading between cats, be sure you treat your pet regularly with flea medications.