Stray Cats and Cat Bites

It is inevitable, no matter how cautious you are when you are working with stray cats, at one time or another, you will either get bit or scratched for your efforts. The attack may be meaningful, when you go to fill a half-empty feed bowl, the cat lunges and clamps down. Or, perhaps while handling a new Queen’s baby kitten, the Queen strikes out and you become for a short period of time, her victim.

Never blame the cat for lashing out and keep your terror, panic, anger whatever emotion is coursing through you in check or it will be the worse for you. The cat will pick up on your emotion and the battle will continue.

If your stray has latched onto you with his claws or teeth, do not pull away (although this will be your immediate reaction) Pulling away, turns your hand, arm, leg from an inanimate object into prey wanting to escape and the cat will intensify his efforts to keep you near him. Instead, draw quickly (like a lunge) into the bite or scratch, this will cause the cat to startle and drop his grip.

If your stray is battle ready and willing to take you on- find something you can put in front of you- a blanket, a broom, even taking off your shirt works to hold him off. Use the object to guide the cat without touching him into a room where he can take some chill time while you attend to your wounds. Or if the cat is used to sleeping in a carrier, place the carrier near the cat and shoo the cat into his safe place using a broom.

What to do about a cat bite or a scratch:
Statistics show that 80% of cat bites become infected. I keep an emergency cat bite box available in my cat room upstairs. Inside, I have a basin- epsom salts, betadine solution, hydrogen peroxide, small container of bleach, 4×4 squares, paper tape (doesn’t pull your hairs like regular tape does) and an antibacterial cream.

You should have your tetanus up-to-date if you do any sort of work with strays. If not, do not pass go, do not collect one-hundred dollars, beat your feet quickly to the nearest ER room and get that bite looked at as well as updating your shot.

If you are like me, the bites usually occur when the doctor’s office is closed so if it isn’t a deep gash where you see muscle or bone, you can drop the wounded limb into a hot bath of water and epsom salt to draw out the poisons. One ER tech told me once that putting your finger or hand into a bleach and warm water mixture will kill any of the bacteria that cats commonly carry in their mouth or teeth (pasturella, staph, and other critters are running around in this critter). This procedure however, hurts like the dickens and I wouldn’t recommend it for the faint-of heart.

If it is a cat bite, the doctor is obligated by law to report the bite. This means that they may come and take the cat and quarantine him for 60 days to watch for rabies. Or, in some states, they can slap you with a fine for endangering your health and the health of others.

If you choose to not go to the doctor’s, that is your choice and your risk. You want to watch the area of the bite/scratch carefully. You are looking for any type of discharge, from clear to puss-filled. If you feel heat or see swelling around the area YOU NEED A DOCTOR IMMEDIATELY! Especially if you see long red lines traveling from the center of the wound to other healthy areas of your body- if this happens Call 911 as this is the first stage of blood poisoning.

Cat Scratch Fever has been mentioned in this blog several times. Possibly because I have had the misfortune of dealing with this nasty critter and almost lost my foot- but bites and scratches are nothing to sneeze at. Sometimes, neosporin, iodine, hydrogen peroxide just aren’t enough to take care of the bacteria that stray cats lug around with them.

26 thoughts on “Stray Cats and Cat Bites

  1. Thank you for the invaluable information regarding a stray cat bite. My tetanus is up to date but I wasn’t sure about cleaning the bite. I’m not sure as to what is going on with her. She had 4 kittens (in which) I managed to get 2 adopted by a friend & I have the other 2 (not intentionally). The kittens are 9 mos. now. I recently started letting the kittens out as I couldn’t stop them from pawing at the slider & crying insistently. For a while, when I would try to get the mom to come in, she would try to get the kittens out (kinda funny). This is my 1st experience with cat’s. Mom is still a stray but over time I was able to coax her to come in during bad weather or extremely cold weather. Now, because of the kittens she refuses to come in but…she won’t let the kittens near her. She is hissing at them & attacking them, she doesn’t even want them on the deck. I guess like it’s her territory. She has never tried to bite me before, just like a little nibble but friendly like. This time, she wanted me to pat her & while I was she turned & bit me then hissed. Is this something I need to worry about? Hopefully, you can answer this question for me. I have grown quite attached to her & don’t want to give her up. She hasn’t had any of her shots (I couldn’t afford them, I’ve been out of work for 2 yrs now). I did manage to get the 3 of them neutered & spayed but only 1 of the male kittens has had his rabies shot. Thank you in advance for any info you may be able to give me or where to find info.

  2. Peggy,

    Is the mom spayed? Her actions tell me that perhaps she is still intact and possibly going into heat which can cause aggression. Her driving her kittens away is perfectly normal in the stray cat world. She views them as competition for her food and waterand ultimately her survival and also another creature to bring predators near her. She will be more forceful with the males then the females, but eventually she will drive them off. Getting everyone neutered/spayed helps a lot so in that, you are ahead of the game. But if you didn’t get her spayed- you need to and it is possible she is pregnant again.

  3. I made my bf take in a stray cat that came out of the woods in the middle of nowhere one early evening and walked up to us crying. She was tame, no meat on her, just bones, and rather clean, no fleas, for living in the woods fighting off raccoons and who knows what else. She obviously was lacking food and we couldn’t leave her. After a day indoors, we bathed her and since I couldn’t see her front side because my bf was struggling with her and sudsing her, she bit through my finger, using her top and bottom teeth. She made it through the bath, but since she’s already litter box trained, and doesn’t jump up on furniture and is a very good kitty, should I be concerned about any infection or disease? It’s been two days. I want to guess that she’s not quite a year old.

  4. Even a house cat can deliver a devastating bite under the right circumstances. If there is swelling, pain, puffiness or heat coming off the wound, I would definitely get to the doctor immediately. If your tetanus shot isn’t up to date- I would get to the doctor and have a shot just to be safe.

    Thank you for rescuing this kitty and it isn’t surprising that you got bit. Cats typically do not like baths. I find bathing in a deep bucket is helpful. The cat is so intent on clinging to the top of the sides of the bucket that biting isn’t in the picture. One thing is for sure, this cat worries of the past are over. I would almost say that you should just go and see the doctor to be sure you are safe. If the wound goes bad- it goes bad quickly. I have been in the past in the hospital on IV’s and morphine and the fear of losing my arm because of a cat bite. One of my sisters had a feral bite her on the arm and when the wound didn’t heal for weeks, she went in and they did a scan. They found the cat had left part of his tooth in her bone. They removed the tooth and about a year later in the same arm, my sister developed bone-eating tumors. She now has a pure titanium arm and her students call her the bionic teacher- coincidence? Who knows-

  5. Even a house cat can deliver a devastating bite under the right circumstances. If there is swelling, pain, puffiness or heat coming off the wound, I would definitely get to the doctor immediately. If your tetanus shot isn’t up to date- I would get to the doctor and have a shot just to be safe.

    Thank you for rescuing this kitty and it isn’t surprising that you got bit. Cats typically do not like baths. I find bathing in a deep bucket is helpful. The cat is so intent on clinging to the top of the sides of the bucket that biting isn’t in the picture. One thing is for sure, this cat worries of the past are over. I would almost say that you should just go and see the doctor to be sure you are safe. If the wound goes bad- it goes bad quickly. I have been in the past in the hospital on IV’s and morphine and the fear of losing my arm because of a cat bite. One of my sisters had a feral bite her on the arm and when the wound didn’t heal for weeks, she went in and they did a scan. They found the cat had left part of his tooth in her bone. They removed the tooth and about a year later in the same arm, my sister developed bone-eating tumors. She now has a pure titanium arm and her students call her the bionic teacher- coincidence? Who knows-

  6. We have been feeding a stray cat on our front porch for several weeks. Our other cats are all scared to death of him. He can be mean and frequently jumps on them so that’s why I’ve been trying to feed him separately. He seems loving and affectionate at times – rubbing on my legs, purring, wanting me to pet him – and then, out of nowhere, he will just attack and bite/scratch me. He’s drawn blood three separate times when he’s bitten/scratched me on the leg or foot. As soon as he finishes biting, he starts purring again. I’m scared of him now so I avoid direct contact with him, though I am still feeding him. Is there any way to make him stop this behavior?

  7. One way would be to take him in and get him neutered. It will take a few weeks for all the testosterone to make its way through the kitty but he should calm down after that. If you want him to keep his distance from your feet and leg- spray your clothes with lemon-scented perfume. He sounds pet aggressive so not petting him would be a good option just to keep him safe. To keep him around, set up a routine with him daily putting out his food and fresh water at the same time(s) every day. When he knows he can count on you, he will relax and begin to trust you. Do not make direct eye contact with him and if you do, blink your eyes slowly several times and lower your head so he won’t feel threatened.

  8. Hi, we have two barn cats that are spayed and UTD. A neighbor’s barn cat keeps coming over and he is very friendly. Tonight I saw he has a hurt paw and my husband foolishly tried to touch him and the cat scratched him. Its a very superficial kind of scratch with just a trace of blood but I am concerned whether the chances are if the cat has rabies it could have infected my husband? I hope to contact the owners within next 24 hrs to see if its been vax for rabies, would that be too long to wait?

  9. Honestly, unless there has been rabies reported recently in your area and the cat was acting strangely- unable to walk straight, extremely aggressive or overly friendly-dilated pupils, heavy drool running down the mouth and neck- rabies shouldn’t be an issue. If you are worried- you can always go to the doctor and have them start the rabies cure which is pretty brutal in and of itself. It would just be up to you. Rabies is nothing to mess with but just because a cat is outside doesn’t mean it is rabid. I would call your doctor if you are worried or ask the owner to quarantine their cat voluntarily for 10 days to see if rabies is on board. Some states request mandatory rabies on all owned dogs and cats so check that out as well- your neighbor may not be aware of this law.

  10. my friend has a cat that was strayed. She got it as a kitten and now it is over a year old. Who ever come in the cat will attack them. I visit many times and the last time the cat showed its teeth and its claw at me. I leave the cat alone, I do not touch or pit the cat. The cat attacks everybody including the owner of the cat. I will walk by the cat and the cat will attack me. Please help me or my friend.
    the cat has been fixed, and it has not calmed her down.
    the cat has gotten all of the shots.
    I told her that the next time the cat attacks some one she might be taken to court.

  11. I would seriously consider putting this cat on some of the Bach Flower Remedies to help him out or buy him a pheromone collar (Nutri-Calm) The collar does have drawbacks- some cats dislike collars and will almost hang themselves trying to get it off their neck. Try it on him in a small enclosed space at first and see how he tolerates it- make sure you can get one finger between the collar and the neck. It is a hard collar to fit because they coat it in powder and it is a slippery devil. But I have found that it works about 75% of the time. The other percent lies with the cat who just doesn’t want anything that close to his neck.You should know in the first ten minutes of him wearing it whether or not it is safe. I wish it were a breakaway- that would make me feel better based on the experiences I have had in trying it on several ferals in the last year.

  12. Have male stray that has been in a few.fights..been feeding him for about 2 months. He has allowed me to stroke and pet him briefly before…. tonight while I fed him I Stroked him and he turned and bit me near my wrist. I imminently went into cleaning my wound..first thing I saw was hydrogen peroxide put it on my wound while going to the bathroom used it, when I got to the bathroom washed it with antibacterial soap then poured alcohol into the wound. And put Bactra ban salve on it. Hope I done the right thing….. Gonna watch the wound close.
    What should I look for in an infection? Should I notify my Dr. About this?

  13. In most states they will seize the cat and put it in quarantine once it has bitten someone. This just rules out rabies. The doctors are required by law (depending on where you live) to contact authorities during a cat bite incident. Look for redness, swelling- heat rising up to meet your palm when you hover over the bite. It is always wise to consult a doctor when it comes to a cat bite. They do carry a lot of bacteria in their mouth especially if they are hunting to survive.

  14. Hi There
    I had an semi-abandoned cat come to me yesterday crying / dirty and after I got her trust, she let me pick her up and I was taking to the neighbours (who had abandoned it, to see what they wanted to do). She scratched me, not too badly, in my inner elbow area and a couple of other places. I washed all with soap and water as soon as the neighbours had taken her back but got a really sore wrist last night and today feel like my neck is out (really stiff) and my thumb is really sore – all on the same side as the worst cat scratch. Should I be worried as I have had cat scratches before with no problems and wonder if this is just totally unrelated and a coincidence as there is no swelling anywhere? I am in NZ so no rabies issues. Any ideas appreciated… Cheers

  15. I would be worried enough to go to either your doctor or an ER in the next 24 hours. If you are not concerned about rabies, then that is good, but here it is always a concern. Do you even know if they kept up with the vaccinations? I will put it to you this way- I went through much the same symptoms after a cat puncture that you describe. I ended up in the hospital on fluids and IV antibiotics and I couldn’t move my leg at all for about 4 days. I came very close to losing my foot all because of cat scratch fever. Please seek medical help ASAP!

  16. Dear Admin:)

    I am so happy to have found your blog. I have been feeding this male feral cat for over a year. After a while he allowed me to pet him and caress him a bit as he ate. By this time he was coming right inside the door to eat, and when finished sat beside the door waiting to get out. The last few weeks he comes in and wonders around and follows me a bit, demanding more caresses. I was delighted as I used to have dreams of him allowing me to pick him up so I could take him to be neutered and given his shots. My aim was to make him want to be my house cat. This past week as I caressed him he bit my index finger near the knuckle IT HURT! I cried out and he let go. I grabbed a towel to stop the bleeding as I also opened the door, picked up his food bowl and put it outside. He followed the food and I shut the door in his face. I washed the bite with soap and water, then poured hydrogen peroxide over it. Then used neosporin on a water proof bandaid (Nexcare) I left it on for two days before changing it. No swelling at all or soreness after the first day. I still clean and cover it daily and it is rapidly healing. For the last 4 nights I set his food out and did not let him in.
    Today, when I let my small dog, Mickey, out the back door, The Black cat ran into my house. That was a first. Naturally, I felt apprehensive. My biggest fear was that he would now attack my little chihuahua. Always before, my dog had shown submissivness to the cat when he was inside with us and the cat (Beauty)) would even allow him to eat a little of his cat food. Beauty was meowing up a storm at me and I got him some food while talking to him.. He wanted to be petted, which I did warily. During this time he followed me closely and though I tried to get him out, before Mickey wanted back in, He would not follow his food bowl out the door. He was also drinking..water.. I had never seen him take advantage of Mickey’s water bowl before. It was as if he was telling me that he had moved in. It was also daylight and he never came until full dark.
    I am disabled and am prone to lose my balance so I did not welcome a potentially violent cat weaving between my feet. The last time I tried to move his
    food toward the door He raised up and grasped my hand and scratched a finger. We were close enough to the door that I opened it and set the bowl out, As he started toward it I gently but quickly booted him on through and shut the door.
    I treated the scratch the same as the bite and hopefully it will be ok. If I see any sign of a problem I will go to my doctor or er. i worry that his behavior was my fault somehow and that is why I am being so detailed. Thank you for this blog/forum. I will donate as I am grateful you were here.

  17. Sounds to me like he is pet-aggressive and you shouldn’t be afraid of him because he will pick that up and use it to his advantage. If you lower your expectations of what you want him to do for you- you should have a pretty good cat to keep you company outside. I wouldn’t pick him up or touch him or make contact with his eyes and I would just put his food outside along with some water and perhaps a cat bed so he can feel he has someplace to go. The weather is turning rough all over the United States right now- so if you can provide him a warm spot on your porch or patio, he might just work out for you.

  18. I recently trapped a feral mother cat and her 5 kittens at my workplace. Took the mother into be spayed and was advices by the clinic not to out them back together. In trying to socialize kittens one of them bit me I went to my physician who reported it to the health department I was told that the kittens (3 of them because I could not determine which one bit me) would have to be quarantined for 10 days. My work would no it allow me to keep them there any longer and I couldn’t fund anyone else to keep them so I was forced to turn them over to the local shelter which does NOT have a no kill policy. I cried all the way home because I sealed those poor kittens kittens fate fate. They are really young -about 5 weeks and have potential. I had found homes for 2 of their calmer siblings .I made a rash decision and think may be I could keep them in their kennel on my porch away from my 18 year old cat until they could be adopted . Will the shelter give them back to me? I feel awful about the whole situation. They were were making progress and im sure that with a little more more individual attention they would make. Wonderful pets

  19. I would be surprised if the shelter would return them to you. They are legally bound by the law to quarantine all the kittens (since you are unclear of which one bit you) until they are cleared for rabies. It is doubtful these kittens have rabies, but you can always look up the rabies alerts in your city or town by using Google. They should be notifying you at the end of the quarantine so that you won’t have to undergo the painful process of shots. I have been working with strays and ferals over half of my life and have only seen one case of rabies in cats. it was when I was a kid in Southern California and we had this beautiful boy by the name of Smoky. He was neutered but he roamed our back fields and loved to catch gophers. I remember the day clearly. My Dad had noticed his off behavior and captured him in net and was holding him down. He had his war pistol ready and dispatched Smokey as humanely as possible. There was not time to do anything else- Smoky had the furious form and was clearly suffering. My dad was yelling at all of us to get in the house and he had his darkroom apron on and his welding gloves. I remember clearly seeing foam just spraying from this cat’s mouth. All of us cried for weeks over the loss- but thankfully, I have not witnessed it since. I was 9 at the time, I am 62 years old now.

    Also you have to consider the fact that these kittens are revenue for this shelter. Hopefully after quarantine, the kittens will be socialized and found homes. I am surprised they took them- most shelters won’t take cats or kittens unless they are huggable.

  20. Thank you for responding. THey told me I could have them after the quarantine period but would have to pay a boarding fee of $30 (normally each but they are waiving the fee for 2) I guess it helps that they have a lot of cats/kittens. So I am very lucky and so are they. They aren’t friendly and will need a lot of work. I’m sure otherwise they would be euthanized. That’s an interesting story about your rabid cat. I have never heard of anyone going through that. When I was a kid I was playing with a strangers cat and was bit. My mother lectured me for playing with an animal bidding know so the fear if rabies was instilled in me early on. I could almost hear that lecture after I got bit.. I think rabies is more common in south carolina . There was a case of a rapid stray about 29 Miles from me last week. I do appreciate your insite.

  21. I dont want my elderly cat aroud my feral kittens so where is the best place to house them while I socialize them? Garage? Outside? Spare room? My cat had a reaction so he he is no longer vaccinated? If these kitties are positive I don’t want to infect mine.

  22. I would take at least two kittens into the vet and have them tested. If one tests positive, then chances are the other will as well. We put down any cat or kitten testing positive for FIV or FeLV- that’s just our policy.

  23. We found a cat in the neighborhood. Found out he was abanded from owners. I have an indoor cat and won’t let him in. We got him a doghouse. Doesn’t go in it much but hoping by the winter he does. Anyway. He finally lets me “pet” him. He does try to scratch once in a while. I don’t know why. I only pet him when he is aware. Feel bad for him. No shelter will help. So he is here to stay. Feed him 2-3 times a day. But I don’t know why he gets aggressive while he likes attention?

  24. Kim, this is pretty common when the cat in question hasn’t been socialized at a young age. Cats have sensors along their back and on the back of their legs and the cats not handled as kittens can’t get used to humans petting them without lashing out. They get over-stimulated. We have several here where you have to learn to read them before petting them or suffer the consequences of claws and teeth! Over time, you can learn to read the signs and do short pets without problems.

  25. Hi. I had a neighbor that was in the thrones of dementia. We all thought it was gradual. She got a kitten when it was about 10 weeks old. I would go to visit her and check on the kitten. It was always hidding from her and would never come out when called. I became concerned when one day I saw the carrier and it looked as if the animal was desperately trying to get out. Well one very chilly night I found my neighbor walking aimlessly in the dead of night with a sleeveless dress on and no shoes or socks. I got her home in front of the fireplace and started asking her about the kitten. She said she hadn’t seen her in a long time. It’s hard to tell if she knows what she’s saying because of the dementia. Well they took her and put her in an observation facility. She has no family and no one to call regarding her situation. I was afraid for the kitten so I entered the house and my god it was a mess. The lady was a hoarder and no way I could find the kitten. There were sign’s that she had it trapped in the bathtub and was using a shelf over the top to keep it inside the tub. Probably forgetting to feed or provide water for it because when I finally trapped it they vet determined it’s overall body condition was a 3 out of a possible 9. What a horrible life this kitten was subjected to at the hands of this lady. I took her and got her fixed (she was in heat) and got her vaccinated and brought her home. Vet says she is feral. The entire 5 days she was at the vet’s she did not eat. I brought her home and set up my spare room for her. No confinement , plenty of nutritious food , clean fresh water and quiet time to heal her broken spirit. I waited about 2 weeks just leaving her alone to learn the sounds of home , dishes being washed , washing machine running. And me going into the room a couple times a day to clean litter box and replenish food. I had her licking baby food off my finger but all of a sudden she started hissing and growling at me when I cane in the room. I won’t reward her with any baby food the minute she starts to hiss or growl. I just slowly get up and leave. I don’t yell or act angry. I just put my head down and say ” ok Sam I will try again tomorrow. I won’t give up on you Sam no matter how hard you try to push me away”. And I leave. I’m not making any progress. She doesn’t want me in the room. She hides under the covers of the bed and stays there all day. I know because I put a camera in the room. What should I do? She’s only about 7 months old and this woman has destroyed her spirit. Can she ever get better? Or am I fighting a battle that can not be won? Please help me help this little kitten

  26. JoAnn I can only tell you that I have been in this same situation multiple times. This is the process that I have learned over so many misguided attempts that works for me. First, I would remove any harsh lighting in the room- replace with low wattage bulbs, but better than that are night lights motion activated.

    I would set up a schedule of when I would go into the room and not deviate. Food/water x amount of times (for her, I would say at least 5 times a day if not more. Cleaning litter pans different times then feeding (too much activity at once can frighten a kitten with PTSD. Same time(s)

    While I am in the room, I am low to the ground, seriously, I even have crawled into rooms. I sit on the floor and I read out loud to the kitten (softly) I have my shoes off but leave my stinky socks on (go for a quick walk before you visit) most of our sweat glands are located in our feet.

    If she comes out, I ignore her. I don’t look in her direction, I don’t especially look into her eyes. That is an invitation for war. If you meet her glance- immediately blink your eyes slowly several times, lower your head and back away. This signals her instinctively that she will not be harmed by you.

    I lay enticing bits of food on the floor, and then lay down on my back next to these bits. I slow my breathing, close my eyes and see if she comes out to eat. If she does, I do not move. I wait for her to make the first move- whether it be a headbump or her jumping up on me to investigate this strange human who means her no harm.

    You are welcome to email me directly and I will be glad to give you more tips. You can reach me at I will tell you that for every step forward you make, there will be an instant three steps back. When it comes to broken trust between cat/human there is no timeline. You don’t make the decision about when she or he is ready to go forward again, she does. I always tell people- take off your watch, lower your expectations, turn off your electronic devices and give it time. God Bless You for saving this little one. It sounds like she has been through hell and back-

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