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All About Cat Sractch Fever

Updated by Amy Granger on Jun 9, 2021

Have you noticed any sudden changes in your cat's behavior? Does your cat tend to go outdoors a lot or hang with any cats that do so? If you've also identified other things such as scratches or a fever, it is possible your cat might have been infected with Bartonella henselae.

cat sractch fever

Cat scratch fever is a common disease in cats. It is called "cat scratch" because it is literally transmitted through saliva entering scratches between cats. Nonetheless, this name does not clearly indicate that the only form of transmission is through a cat scratch. It can also be transmitted by fleas or ticks. There are also many people infected by CSD(cat scratch disease) without being near a cat, the form of transmission for these people could have been infected flea excrement, flea bites or other animal hosts.

When a flea ingests blood that has the bacteria present, it replicates inside the flea and comes out through the feces. Flea feces are microscopic and can enter wounds in humans or animals or even through mucous membranes like the eyes or mouth. The antibodies produced after infection do not assure the body that the cat will be protected from reinfection.

It is caused by gram-negative bacteria which means in some cases, it is a bit harder to manage, as it has special components in its structure that will make it harder to be attacked by an antibiotic. The most common species of this bacteria that causes the disease in cats is called Bartonella henselae. It can also affect different species; however, it is most common in the cat.

Some symptoms to keep an eye on are:

  • Fever: Remember to periodically check your cat's temperature when you begin to identify a shift in its behavior. A normal cat temperature is from 100.5ºF to 102.5ºF. If you are not comfortable checking a cat's rectal temperature, consider buying an ear thermometer or visiting the veterinarian for a full check-up.
  • Chills: If you find that your cat is shivering and is constantly looking for warmth or heat around the house, this might mean they are feeling uncomfortable, unwell, or are beginning to have a fever.
  • Lethargy: Does your cat usually follow you around the house or ask for food at a certain time every day? Cats tend to have a specific behavior pattern and when it has rough changes, this might be indicative of something that is bothering your cat.
  • Enlarged lymph nodes: There are little round structures around the body called lymph nodes where there are immune cells that protect your cat from pathogens. If you find that some of these are a little bit bigger than usual, and your cat feels pain when touched, this can mean they are active and producing immune cells to protect your cat from some sort of pathogen. When a cat has CSD, the submandibular lymph nodes are usually enlarged and this can cause pain.
  • Lesions on the skin or the eye: Does your cat like to go outside often? There is one of the reasons that veterinarians recommend keeping cats indoors, when they are outdoors, they might pick a fight with other cats and scratch each other's face and causing injuries, this is a one-way ticket for Bartonella to come in and cause disease.

These symptoms can last up for a week, however, when the bacteria affects cats, it is usually self-limited and causes an enlargement of the regional lymph nodes. It is also common for cats to show no symptoms. During the infected time with symptoms or not, they are infectious to other animals until the organism disappears from the blood.

Cats have even been shown to co-exist with B. henselae and this is one of the reasons why the pathogenic effect is minimized and symptoms do not affect the cat's health as much. Other signs have been associated with other clinical conditions and not specifically by this bacteria precisely because of the self-limiting condition of this disease. Younger cats are more likely to be infected and pass the bacterium to people. Scientists believe that up to 40% of cats have this bacteria during at least one point in their life and are able to transmit it to another cat or human.

cats hold each other

To diagnose cat scratch fever in a cat, multiple tests can be practiced although it is not common for this to be done, bartonellosis is not usually caught in time or is self-limited before the owner identifies alarming symptoms in the cat. If your veterinarian or yourself find that your cat has suspicious signs that might indicate cat scratch fever, do not hesitate to visit the pet hospital. Some tests that might be done are:

  • Antibody testing: this identifies if your cat has been exposed to the bacteria. When bacteria enter the body, the body generates a response in the form of a protein that attacks the same or similarly structured pathogens.
  • PCR testing: this identifies whether the bacteria is present in your cat's blood. The veterinarian takes a sample of your cat's blood and sends it to the clinical laboratory, where it is put inside a machine that indicates if there is bacterial genetic data in the blood sample.
  • Blood culture: this is based on a blood sample that is put in a Petri dish and grown to later identify the kind of bacteria present in the blood. After finding out what kind of bacteria is affecting your cat, the lab will send an antibiogram to determine which are the best antibiotics to attack the specific strain.

No specific antibiotics have been proven to treat this disease. Some medications such as enrofloxacin or a combination of two antibiotics could be recommended by veterinarians but it is very important that this is prescribed by a doctor because an incorrect dose can cause retinal degeneration in cats. There are also antibiotics that some strains of Bartonella have become resistant to, so sometimes stronger antibiotics must be prescribed. However, the disease usually goes away on its own without causing too much damage.

There is a false belief that declawing your cat will help reduce the risk of spreading cat scratch disease. Remember that just because the disease is named this way, it doesn't mean this is the only way the disease is transmitted. It comes from flea fees which can be found in many different places such as the ground, carpets, over-the-counter dust, even your cat's saliva. The best way to prevent cat scratch fever is to make sure your cat is flea-free and avoid situations where there might be scratching.

Q1. How long does cat scratch fever last?

This disease can last from 7 to 10 days in your cat. Depending on how old your cat is or if it has any pre-existing medical conditions that can compromise the immune system, it can last a longer or shorter time.

Q2. Does cat scratch fever go away on its own?

Yes! Cat's have developed a co-existing relationship with this bacteria and symptoms are regulated on their own. When a disease goes away on its own, it is called "self-limited".

Q3. What happens if cat scratch fever goes untreated?

In general, there is no treatment given to cats because this disease is considered self-limiting so it usually doesn't last more than 7-10 days. The symptoms usually don't cause any alarming effects, however, it is possible for the liver or kidneys to be damaged if it is a cat of a younger age that does not have a strong immune system yet.

Q4. Is cat scratch disease (CSD) transmissible to humans?

Yes, you can get cat scratch disease from an infected cat and this occurs when the bacteria enters a wound through flea excrement. It can also be transmitted through cat bites if blood enters the wound. However, CSD is not contagious from person to person. A person can develop symptoms around 3 to 14 days after being infected by the bacteria and small blisters can be found on the skin(usually on the arms, hands, scalp or head). With time, regional lymph nodes will be enlarged and other symptoms such as abdominal pain, loss of appetite or fever may appear. Contact your doctor in time if you have a scratch that is getting larger after two days.


Keep in mind the considerations and ways to prevent your cat from catching CSD and the way that possibly transmitting to you. Remember that any alarming symptoms might be a sign to visit the veterinarian. Your cat will thank you for taking care of its health even if it angrily meows at you after arriving home!

Amy Granger
Amy is an editor from iPetor, owns a 4-year experience in writing tips and tutorial for users. As a pet owner, she will share more pets care methods and recommend more useful products for all pet owners.
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