April 05, 2023 Pets and Family

Is a Cat Bite Worse than a Dog Bite?

Cat showing teeth

Is a Cat Bite Worse than a Dog Bite?

April 9-15 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. Once again, the cat is slighted, possibly since cat bites are less common than dog bites. But cat bites are a serious problem and should not be ignored.

Dog and Cat Bite Numbers

Animal bites are a significant public health issue. Every year, 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs and 150,000 of these people require medical attention. Children ages five to nine and males, regardless of age, are more commonly involved in dog bite incidents than adults and females. Dog bite injuries to children less than four years of age typically involve a bite to the head.

In 2012, 70% of animal bites in New York City were from dogs, and 17% were from cats, according to a review of the city’s emergency rooms.

Cat and dog teeth
The feline dental arcade on the left shows the sharp fangs responsible for serious injury from cat bites. The photo on the right shows the blunter, less tapered fangs of a dog.

Cat Bites Are Not the Same as Dog Bites

Cats, being a completely different beast than dogs, cause different types of bite injuries than dogs do. Dog bites may look worse, because their teeth are larger, but the slender, sharp fangs of a cat penetrate deep into the tissues. Cat bites are more likely to introduce bacteria deep into the wound, causing serious infection and damage to tendons and ligaments. In a study published by the Mayo Clinic, one third of patients bitten on the hand by a cat were hospitalized and two thirds of those patients needed surgery to treat the bite injury. Middle-aged women were the most common victims of cat bites to the hand.

Cat Bites and Rabies

Another difference between cat bites and dog bites is the risk of rabies. Anytime a person is bitten by an animal, there is a concern for rabies. The concern for rabies is six times higher in cat bites than in dog bites. In 2021, cats accounted for nearly six percent of rabies diagnoses in the United States. Only one percent of rabies cases were in dogs. Bats, racoons, skunks and foxes topped the list of wildlife infected with the rabies virus.

Why Cats Bite and How to Protect Yourself

A recent survey of cat owners sheds some light on why cats bite. In the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 77% of cat owners reported their cat tried to bite or scratch them while being medicated. If your veterinarian prescribes oral medication for your cat, ask for a demonstration on how to administer the drug or watch the how-to video from AMC’s Usdan Institute for Animal Health Education.

Because cat bites carry a high risk of serious infection, cat bite injuries should receive immediate medical attention. I would be willing to bet the ER doctors will prescribe antibiotic therapy to prevent a serious infection of the joints, ligaments and tendons.

Finally, make sure both your cat and dog are up to date on their rabies vaccination. If one of them accidentally bites you, there will be one less illness to worry about.

Tags: animal medical center, ann hohenhaus, cat, cat bite, cats, dog bite, dog bite prevention week, dogs, NYC, pet health, pets, teeth, veterinarian,

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