Getting bitten by a stray cat is the stuff of nightmares for people who are not so keen on domesticated felines. Fortunately, bites are comparatively rare when you consider how many people are bitten every year by dogs. For every one cat bite in the U.S. there are 10 dog bites. Of course, this does not lessen the pain for a person who is actually been bitten by a stray cat.
If you ever find yourself in such a situation, it is helpful to be prepared. To that end, there are five helpful tips explained in detail below. Just remember that a cat bite does not necessarily mean you are in for some ugly consequences. The vast majority of bites that occur in the U.S. are minor. There is nothing to get freaked out about.
1. Step Back and Assess the Situation
Any situation that takes you by surprise has the potential of initiating panic. This is normal. However, there is no need to panic over a cat bite. Step back, take a breath, and assess the situation. Avoiding panic is the best way to prevent escalation of the situation.
First and foremost, assess the severity of your injury. Does it appear to be just a minor bite not likely to require stitches? Does it look bad enough that you should get to the ER or an urgent care center? The reason for starting here should be obvious: your own health is your number one priority. You do not want to risk a more serious problem by neglecting an injury that really needs medical attention.
Serious injuries aside, you might also want to assess why you think the attack might have occurred. This is important from the standpoint of determining the relative risk of rabies.
Unprovoked attacks by cats are extremely rare. Therefore, if you are bitten by a stray cat for no apparent reason – which is to say you did not initiate contact in any way – there is the very real risk that the animal is rabid. This would be a big enough cause for concern to send you to the hospital and report the attack to local animal control.
On the other hand, you may have done something to either provoke the animal or at least cause it to take a defensive posture. Perhaps you were attempting to make physical contact and the cat resisted. Or maybe you were trying to break up a fight between the cat another animal. Such provocation does not make the pain of a cat bite any less, but it does reduce the chances that you are dealing with a rabid animal.
2. When to Seek Medical Care
Experts suggest always seeking medical care for a cat bite even if you do not think it to be serious. Their cautionary approach is due to the fact that it is possible for some diseases to be passed from cats to humans by way of bites. Those diseases include rabies, cat scratch fever, and others.
You will be happy to know that the number of diseases cats can pass on to humans is quite small. Most of them are not serious either. But rabies is. By the time a cat begins showing signs of rabies, it is too late to treat the animal. That’s why the majority of cats that contract the disease eventually die from it. It is equally serious to human beings.
Contracting the virus that causes rabies does not necessarily mean you’ll get the disease. A series of injections following a cat bite will virtually guarantee you will not. But if a bite from a rabid cat is left untreated, eventually developing the rabies infection could kill you.
Assessing Your Immediate Need
This portion of the discussion leads to the inevitable question of how immediate your need for medical attention is. If the bite is not serious enough to require stitches, you can hold off on seeing the doctor long enough to contact animal control. Both rabies and cat scratch fever do not develop all that quickly. You have enough time to get things sorted out with the officers who arrive at your door.
On the other hand, a severe bite or laceration deep enough to require stitches should not be ignored. The wisest thing to do is bandage the wound, apply some direct pressure to stop the bleeding, and get to the hospital or urgent care center. An injury that serious is always at risk of infection if not dealt with quickly.
3. Contact Local Animal Control
It is always a good idea to contact animal control officers in the aftermath of a bite from a stray cat. Even though strays are current or former pets, there is really no way of knowing how long the cat that bit you has been on its own. You have no way of knowing if the animal is current on all its shots. Animal control’s job is to trap the animal so that it can be observed and/or tested.
A trapped stray will be observed for 7 to 10 days to see if it develops rabies symptoms. If it doesn’t, that’s a good thing. But that still doesn’t mean the cat is disease-free. Animal control may decide to have the animal further tested for other diseases. They might also put the animal down, too.
Animal control is likely to ask you the cat’s location on arrival. In preparation, keep an eye on the cat in the minutes immediately following the attack. Watch where it goes. You may get lucky. The cat may find a corner of your yard and curl up to take a nap. On the other hand, it may scamper across your yard, jump the fence, and head down the street.
The more information you can give animal control, the better. Just knowing what direction the cat moved in can be a big help in locating it. If you don’t know which way it went, just say so. There is no need to send animal control officers on a fruitless chase.
Animal control is also going to want you to describe the incident in detail. Tell them everything you remember – even if some of the facts seem insignificant. Just like a criminal investigation, the little details are often what animal control officers need to do what they do.
4. Talk to Your Neighbors about the Incident
This next piece of advice should be handled with care, so to speak. In the aftermath of being bitten by a stray cat, you might want to talk to your neighbors about what happened. The point here is not to frighten them. Instead, you are simply alerting them to the fact that there is a stray cat in the neighborhood, one that has already bitten you and might possibly bite someone else.
Treat discussions with your neighbors the same way you dealt with animal control officers. Leave the drama out of it. Focus only on the facts of the incident so that your neighbors clearly understand what happened. The last thing you want to do is panic the entire neighborhood over what was probably a minor incident.
Be sure to describe what the cat looks like so that it is not confused with any other cats in the neighborhood. Explain what you were doing when the attack occurred so that others can avoid similar circumstances. In other words, give a detailed picture that adequately educates your neighbors without freaking them out.
5. Honestly Assess How You Deal with Stray Cats
The last bit of helpful advice requires a bit of introspection. Here it is: honestly assess how you deal with stray cats. Why? Because you may have provoked the attack by something you did. Why take the risk of being attacked a second time by making the same mistake?
The reality of nature dictates that cats do not attack unprovoked in most cases. A rabid cat may attack unprovoked, but that’s about the only time that such an attack would occur. In nearly every other case, something has triggered fear and anxiety in the cat. Most of the time it is something that the victim has done.
Stray cats may be current or former pets, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they take kindly to interaction with all humans. Let’s face it. There are some cats that are as finicky about human contact as they are about food. They are socially well-adjusted around people with whom they are comfortable, but they are anxious and fearful around everyone else.
Here are some important questions to ask as part of your self-assessment:
- Do I approach stray cats too quickly or too aggressively?
- Do I attempt to pick stray cats up before first attempting to make them comfortable?
- Do I tend to do things that scare cats?
- Do I tend to persist in petting cats even when they visibly resist?
- Do I tend to play with cats a bit too aggressively?
There are lots of reasons a stray cat might bite a human being. In nearly every case, the animal is just following a natural instinct of self-preservation. Take the natural reaction to pain, for example. Attempting to pick up a cat the wrong way can cause pain in the abdominal region. The animal’s self-preservation instinct kicks in and it reaches out and bites you in the hand.
The bite is nothing personal. It is an attempt by the cat to protect itself. You are causing the animal pain and it just wants to get away. Biting you is a way to get you to let the cat go. It is no different than you reaching out and pulling away a stranger’s hand that has latched onto your arm. Self-defense is really all it is.
Future Dealings with Stray Cats
A bite has an interesting way of affecting how a person looks at stray cats. In your case, being bitten may prompt you to change the way you deal with future strays you encounter. Perhaps you’ve always been a cat lover willing to extend a helping hand to an animal you think is in need. Now that you’ve been bitten though, you may second-guess your actions. That’s okay.
There are times when helping a stray cat is completely appropriate and well worth doing. There are other times when a stray is better left alone. You may not always be able to tell the difference between the two but being bitten certainly gives you reason to pause next time you encounter a stray.