Cat bites are dangerous for a few reasons. They tend to be deep puncture wounds, which are almost always dangerous, because deep puncture wounds put bacteria deep into tissue. You can also get more than one type of infection from a cat bite. So what are some of the specific infections that cats can transmit via their bite?
According to an article on Medscape, as much as 10 percent to 20 percent of animal bites come from cats, and up to 80 percent of them get infected. One potential infection is staphylococcus aureus. S. aureus is the bacteria involved in MRSA, which poses a particular danger. In 2009, The Lancet Infectious Diseases published a report that included information about the prevalence of MRSA among domestic pets, and how they can transmit the infection to their owners. Transmission occurs a variety of ways, including through bites.
Most staph infections, even the ones you can get from cat bites, are mild and easily treated. However, MRSA, because it's resistant to most antibiotics, isn't as easily treated. Everyday Health says that it responds to some antibiotics, but they can be dangerous, particularly for pregnant women and children.
Symptoms of MRSA in a bite wound include pain, swelling, warmth, pus, and possible fever, the same as any other staph infection. It's up to medical professionals to diagnose it, though, so it's important to seek treatment as soon as you notice these symptoms.
Another potential cat bite infection is from the bacteria pasteurella multocida. This one is often isolated in dog and cat bites, and symptoms appear within roughly 24 hours. There's also a risk that, left untreated, this infection can lead to endocarditis and meningitis.
Initial symptoms of P. multocida infection are very much like other infections, and include warmth, tenderness, redness and swelling, along with some discharge or oozing. There might also be some joint pain near the bite, and decreased range of motion. P. multocida isn't drug-resistant, so the recommended treatment includes a broad-spectrum antibiotic.
Feline teeth are smaller and sharper than canine teeth, which is why they're capable of producing such a deep, but small, wound. Whether or not you need antibiotics depends on what a doctor says. Not all bites are serious enough to need oral antibiotics; sometimes just regular Neosporin or other antibiotic ointment on the bite, and a bandage, is sufficient.
If you do get a bite that breaks the skin, don't panic. And don't worry that you're going to get some awful disease from your cat. Awareness is important, but concern and caution, rather than panic, is the answer whenever you read about these things, and also when you do get bitten.