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My cat has been bitten by another cat, what should I do?

One black cat and one ginger cat fighting advice

Cat fights can lead to scratches and bite wounds.

© Shutterstock

If you have a cat and it goes outside, it's likely to get into a fight at some point. But when should you be worried if it comes back injured?

By Dr. Pete Wedderburn, BVM&S CertVR MRCVS

Updated on the 11/08/2020, 15:36

Cats can be surprisingly territorial. They can be aggressive when crossing into space occupied by another cat, and cats will also defend their own territory strongly and aggressively. So it’s not surprising that if a cat spends any time outside, they’re likely to get into a fight with another cat, especially if there are a number of cats living in an area.

What sort of injuries can happen in cat fights?

Cat fights can result in two types of injuries: scratches and bites. Cat scratches tend to be superficial: these wounds heal very quickly on their own in many cases. Cat bite wounds are a different matter: they often need veterinary treatment and a course of antibiotics.

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What happens if a cat bites another cat?

Cats have prominent, sharp canine teeth at the front of their mouths: two upper ones, and two lower ones. When another cat is bitten, these teeth puncture the skin, injecting disease-causing bacteria beneath the surface. The bite is painful in itself, causing tissue damage and bruising. Then as the bacteria multiply, cat bite abscesses develop at the site, as the area around the bite fills with pus, causing swelling and even more pain.

Cats are most often bitten on the head or forelimbs, if they are attacking another cat. Or a cat may be bitten on the tail, over the base of the tail or on the hindquarters if they are trying to escape.

How do you treat a cat bite on a cat?

If a cat has just been bitten by another cat, you can treat the bite wound by cleaning the area, clipping fur away from around the bite mark, and bathing with salt water (1 teaspoonful of salt in a pint) for 24 hours. If the bite wound is superficial, this may be sufficient.

In many cases, the bite wound may be so infected that an abscess follows. The cat may stop eating, become dull, with a high temperature, and will need to go to a vet for an investigation and treatment. This may involve blood tests, sedation or anaesthesia, and a minor operation to ensure drainage of pus from the abscess. Pain relief and antibiotics are often needed.

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How do you treat a cat bite naturally?

Simple wound hygiene, cleaning around the bite marks with mildly salty water regularly for 24 hours, can be effective with minor bite wounds. If the cat becomes dull and quiet, or if the area swells up, starts to discharge, or remains painful, then professional veterinary help is needed.

Can a cat's wound heal by itself?

Mild, superficial bite wounds may heal, but careful monitoring by cat carers is always needed to ensure nothing worse comes of it.

Can a cat die from a cat bite?

Injuries from cat bites are almost never fatal, but an untreated abscess could have lethal consequences, and cat bites can pass on life-threatening viruses like FIV infection.

How long after a cat bite does infection set in?

Bacteria are introduced into the bite wound at the time of the fight, so infection is there from the start. Yet it usually takes two or three days for the bacteria to multiply enough for the infection to become apparent to owners. At this stage, the wound swells up, often oozing or leaking pus. Left untreated, this could cause serious health and welfare issues.

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Is swelling normal after a cat bite?

Swelling usually follows a cat bite: first, the tissue damage from the trauma of the bite itself causes swelling, and second, the bacterial infection, and pus production, causes a second phase of swelling that can be even more dramatic than the first.

Should you put ice on a cat bite?

Cooling may offer some immediate relief following a bite, but bite wounds are painful to touch, and most cats prefer to be left in peace, nursing their own wounds.

Do cat bites always get infected?

Superficial cat bites may not fully penetrate the skin and, in some cases, such fight wounds may not become infected, but they should always be monitored carefully.

Do all cat bites need antibiotics?

A superficial cat bite that is not swollen or painful does not necessarily need antibiotic treatment, as long as the cat is bright and well, eating normally. Such minor wounds may heal very quickly.

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Should I be concerned about a cat bite?

All cat bites need to be taken seriously because of the risk of complications. Basic wound hygiene and careful monitoring are always needed.

Can you get cellulitis from a cat bite?

Cellulitis means inflammation of the layers of living tissue beneath the skin, caused by bacterial infection. This is a common consequence of a cat bite in cats and also in humans.

How long before cellulitis becomes dangerous?

If cellulitis is suspected, in cats or humans, the assistance of a professional should always be sought – a vet for a cat and a doctor for a human. If left untreated, there’s a significant risk of more serious complications.

What does cellulitis look like?

Cellulitis should be suspected if any area is swollen and painful after a bite wound. Often the puncture wounds of the cat bite can be seen in the area: there may be four marks, like the number four side of dice, or two colons :

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What is the best antibiotic for cat bites?

Antibiotics are generally the most effective way to fight wound infections. The choice of antibiotic is a decision made by a vet, on a case-by-case basis. In general, there are three options. First, an initial short-acting antibiotic may be given. Second, a course of oral antibiotics may be given (tablets or liquid, once or twice daily), remembering that full courses of antibiotics must be completed. A third option that has recently become available is a single injection of a long-acting antibiotic that lasts for two full weeks.