cat scratch that stings

Every cat parent knows the feeling of getting clawed by their kitties, but why do cat scratches sting?

Whether it’s a kitten or an adult cat, those playful scratches can really hurt.

So today, I want you to join me as I delve into why!

Let’s get started!

ALSO READ: Why Do Cats Scratch Blankets?

5 Reasons That Cat Scratches Sting

While a scratch from a dog can leave a swollen wound, there is something more visceral about those kitty claw marks and the way that they sting.

Why exactly is it that our furry feline friends are capable of administering such a shocking shank to our skin every time their claws merely graze us?

Reason 1 – Sharp Claws

cat with sharp nails

Cat claws are a lot sharper than you may think. That means that the scratches they leave on your skin cover a lot less surface area.

Usually, the injury just hurts when one gets a big gash, like a scratch from working with tools or kitchen utensils. 

That is because more nerves are triggered, and a more general pain signal is sent to your brain.

A cat’s scratch is more like a paper cut, and the fine cut sends a specific signal to your brain: stinging pain.

Reason 2 – No Blood

One of the reasons that these shallow, fine cuts sting is that they aren’t deep enough to draw blood [1].

When your nerves are exposed to direct oxygen, the pain is worse than having blood acting as a buffer.

Reason 3 – Soft or Thin Skin

Sometimes your cat will scratch more sensitive skin.

The most common scratches on sensitive skin occur in the wrist area. This is because the skin in these areas is thinner, and the veins are finer. 

You will usually find that this kind of scratch bleeds in droplets along the line of the scratch.

But, unfortunately, that does little to protect the nerves from direct contact with the air.

Reason 4 – Skin sensitivity

lady scratching her sensitive skin

If you suffer from any skin sensitivities or allergies, your kitty’s scratch will likely sting a lot more.

This is because people suffering from skin allergies also have a heightened inflammation response [2]. 

That means that your body will send histamines to scratch, causing it to ‘inflame’ or swell.

The response leads to increased pain and a high likelihood of an allergic response such as a rash.

Reason 5 – Dirty Paws

I often marvel at my cats’ grooming routines.

It is no wonder that we pet parents think of our cats as clean animals. And for the most part, they are very clean. 

However, their paws may carry dirt from the places that our cats explore.

It is easy to understand when you think about how hard it would be to keep your feet clean if you went everywhere barefoot.

Dirt can enter a scratch, which can lead to more stinging pain as your body initiates an immune response to target the foreign matter.

READ MORE: Do Cats Like Blankets on Them?

Why do cats scratch?

cat scratching his owner but why do cat scratches sting?

Cats usually scratch as a part of their play [3], but it can also be a defensive response if a cat feels threatened.

If your cat scratches you, it is most likely the consequence of a bit of kitty’ rough housing’.

Related: Why Cats Paw Smooth Surfaces?

How Should I Take Care Of Cat Scratches?

Any injury can become serious if it isn’t tended to properly, and this is all the more so for open wounds.

Cat scratches aren’t only s stinger, they can also lead to some serious health concerns.

Is It Serious?

No matter how clean your cat is, you should always treat scratches immediately. Even a house can carry bacteria on its nails.

Cats do not focus heavily on cleaning their nails when they groom themselves.

cat scratching his human but why do cat scratches sting?

Even the smallest scratch warrants cleaning and disinfecting.

Cats are also carriers of certain bacteria and viruses. Some of these bacteria and viruses are transmissible to humans. 

These infections include [4] things like CSD or cat scratch disease. CSD is a bacterial infection caused by Bartonella henselae bacteria.

Kittens are the most likely carriers, but all cats, tame and feral, can carry the bacteria if exposed to fleas.

CSD can have some serious symptoms. As of writing, there have been no fatalities linked to CSD, but the infection can lead to severe fever requiring hospitalization [5].

In addition, immunocompromised people are particularly susceptible to infection.

Other possible infections include Staphylococcus aureus, campylobacter infection, and Pasteurella bacteria.

Staphylococcus aureus is the most dangerous of the Staphylococcus infections. It can lead to toxic shock syndrome, pneumonia, and bloodstream infections.

Staphylococcus infections have a mortality rate of 80% if left untreated. 

Pasteurella bacteria can lead to serious, rapid-spreading skin conditions, including boils and cyst-like bumps.

It is the most common infection in humans who have suffered a dog or cat bite.

What To Do 

PetMD recommends [6] the following steps:

  • Immediately disinfect the area with a strong antibacterial liquid.
  • The kind of ethanol-based hand sanitizer we have all become accustomed to will do in a pinch.
  • Next, you should apply a topical antibiotic cream to the affected area.
  • If the scratch is bleeding, apply direct pressure.
  • Once you have gently rubbed the cream into the scratch, cover the area with gauze, securing the gauze with a clean bandage. 

Emergency Treatment 

Suppose you feel the slightest suspicion that the wound might be infected, watch this helpful video on what to do next.

In that case, I recommend that you visit the emergency room immediately.

There they will treat the wound, and the doctor will prescribe antibiotics and antihistamines.

They may also administer a shot if the doctor feels it is needed.

That can include both a tetanus shot and a rabies shot.

While Healing 

You need to keep the scratch wound clean and administer the treatment exactly as your doctor prescribed.

If signs of infection persist, such as redness or swelling, return to the emergency room for further treatment.

FAQs

Do cat nails have poison?

cat nails

No, cat nails are not poisonous. There is virtually no risk of being poisoned by your cat scratching you unless the cat has somehow come into contact with a poisonous substance. 

Can you get sick from cat scratch?

Yes, cats can transfer infectious bacteria when they scratch you. Some of these bacteria can lead to serious illness and even death if not treated. 

Conclusion

Cat scratches tend to sting because they don’t draw blood.

The fine scratches inflicted by their sharp claws are more like a paper cut, and the lack of blood leaves your nerves exposed to direct contact with the air.

Cats carry bacteria that can be transmitted to humans. Some of these bacteria can cause life-threatening infections.

Therefore, you must treat cat scratches immediately. Should you suspect an infection, seek emergency medical care.

References

  • 1. Animal Bites and Stings [Internet]. Free Medical Textbook. Free Medical Textbook; 2010 [cited 2021 Dec 10]. Available from: https://medtextfree.wordpress.com/2010/09/03/animal-bites-and-stings/
  • 2. Allergies and the Immune System [Internet]. Hopkinsmedicine.org. 2021 [cited 2021 Dec 10]. Available from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/allergies-and-the-immune-system
  • 3. Casey R. Management problems in cats. BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural Medicine [Internet]. 2009 [cited 2021 Dec 10];98–110. Available from: https://www.bsavalibrary.com/content/chapter/10.22233/9781905319879.chap9?crawler=true
  • 4. Margileth AM. Cat Scratch Disease. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice [Internet]. 1987 [cited 2021 Dec 10];17:91–103. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0195561687506076
  • 5. Maeda Y, Akiyama K. Anaphylaxis after a Cat Bite. Allergology International [Internet]. 2012 [cited 2021 Dec 10];61:511–2. Available from: https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/allergolint/61/3/61_11-LE-0415/_article/-char/ja/
  • 6. PetMD Editorial. How to Treat Cat Scratches at Home [Internet]. Petmd.com. PetMD; 2017 [cited 2021 Dec 10]. Available from: https://www.petmd.com/cat/general-health/how-treat-cat-scratches-home

Why do cat scratches sting? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Tamsin
Tamsin

Hi, I’m Tamsin. I’m a serious animal lover and dog behaviorist and trainer. In fact, I live on a farm with nine rescues! So, I love writing about and creating awareness around the health and wellness of all animals.

Find her on Linkedin. Read her latest articles. Learn more about Tamsin here