Your mother's warning that a cat's scratch could make you ill isn't just a tale concocted to discriminate against cats. Cat scratch fever is an actual disease that cats can contract and pass on through bites and scratches. What Mom may not have told you is that dogs can catch the disease, too, making it all the more necessary to keep Peppo from tangling with neighborhood cats.
Cat scratch disease is an infection caused by a specific bacterium known as Bartonella. It's spread by fleas, and both dogs and cats can get it. They become carriers if they're bitten by infected fleas or if they get the excretion of infected fleas on their claws and then scratch themselves or each other. Once a cat is infected, he can infect a dog with cat scratch fever with even a small scratch if the skin is broken, creating a way for the infection to enter the pooch's bloodstream. Even a well-meaning kitty who is infected with Bartonella can pass it on to your pooch -- say the cat licks an open wound on your dog: He'll get his infected saliva into Peppo's bloodstream.
Cats who have been infected with cat scratch fever typically don't show signs of the disease. Dogs have it harder, though, contending with such symptoms as fever, infections of the heart, nasal congestion and cardiac arrhythmia. The only way to be sure your dog has contracted cat scratch disease is to have your vet test him through blood or tissue cultures. It's best to consult an experienced veterinarian, anyway, regarding the health and treatment of your dog if he's been bitten or scratched by a cat.
Antibiotics will likely be the treatment your veterinarian will give Peppo if he is diagnosed with cat scratch disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website says the success of any one antibiotic or combination of two or more medications hasn't clearly been established, so your vet may have Peppo on medication for up to six weeks if testing shows that the bacteria is hanging on. The vet will not give Peppo medication just because he was scratched by a cat: She'll treat him only if he shows clinical symptoms of having the Bartonella infection.
Keeping your dogs and cats flea-free is an effective first step in preventing them from becoming infected with Bartonella and passing it others. Try to keep Peppo from playing with unfamiliar cats to minimize the chances that he'll be scratched or bitten, even if it's during play. If your dog is scratched or bitten by a cat, wash the wound well with soap and water. You can irrigate the injury with hydrogen peroxide and apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment before bandaging it.
- VeterinaryPartner.com: Bartonella and Cat Scratch Fever
- ASPCA: Cat Scratch Disease
- Iowa State University: Cat Scratch Fever
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Bartonella Infection
- Dogs, Zoonoses and Public Health; Edited by Calum N. L. Macpherson, et al.
- Don't Touch That Doorknob!: How Germs Can Zap You and How You Can Zap Back; Jack Brown
- CatChannel.com: Cat Scratch Fever
- Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images