Pet owners often underestimate health consequences of cat bites, Mayo Clinic study shows

The idea of a cat bite does not strike fear into the hearts of many pet owners, but new research from the Mayo Clinic suggests that those bitten would be wise to show more concern.

The study reviewed 193 biting incidents from 2009 to 2011 and took a closer look at the medical outcomes from those bites, according to a Mayo Clinic news release.

Findings from the study, which was published in the February edition of the Journal of Hand Surgery, included:

  • The average age of the 193 patients was 49 years old, and 69 percent were female.
  • Fifty-one percent of the patients initially visited the emergency department, while the rest first went to a primary care department.
  • Patients waited an average of 27 hours after being bitten to receive medical care.
  • Thirty percent of the patients were hospitalized for bite-related issues, and they stayed in the hospital for an average of 3.2 days.
  • Of the 193 patients, 36 were immediately hospitalized, 154 were given oral antibiotics and sent home, and three received no treatment.
  • Fourteen percent of those sent home with antibiotics were later hospitalized. 
  • Seventy-two percent of those immediately admitted to the hospital and 57 percent of patients who were later hospitalized underwent irrigation and debridement procedures. Eight of these patients needed multiple operations.
  • Patients with bites proximal to the wrists or joints were more likely to be hospitalized than those with bites on soft tissue.

In addition to the above findings, researchers learned that follow-up visits with patients sometimes revealed additional complications such as abscess formation and loss of joint mobility.

Senior author Brian T. Carlsen, MD, from the Division of Plastic Surgery at the Mayo Clinic, explained why cat bites can be just as harmful as bites from dogs, whose teeth are bigger but not as sharp.

“It can be just a pinpoint bite mark that can cause a real problem, because the bacteria get into the tendon sheath or into the joint where they can grow with relative protection from the blood and immune system,” Carlsen said.

Read the full study in the Journal of Hand Surgery.

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