Why Do Cat Scratches Itch? Is It Normal? What Can You Do About It?

Abhijeet Modi
Oct 06, 2023 By Abhijeet Modi
Originally Published on Oct 21, 2021
Red and white cat and scratching post.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 6.6 Min

Playing with cats is one of the most fun activities anyone can engage in, and it's all fun and games until they scratch you and the scratch starts to itch!

A cat owner will be all too familiar with getting scratched by their cats and although cats will not usually scratch deep into your skin, there is a chance that it might start to itch afterward. However, it is completely normal for these kinds of injuries to itch as it is a natural reaction from your immune system.

When a cat scratches you, it most likely will only affect the topmost layer of your skin, similar to a paper cut. But just like a paper cut can hurt very much, a cat scratch can turn out to itch or even cause some swelling in some cases. This is probably because the cat scratch is so superficial that your brain does not release pain-relieving endorphins and the production of histamine in your body can cause itching, which is a natural response and nothing to worry about. However, a cat scratch is not always considered to be normal. The itching is said to last longer than normal if someone is allergic to cats in general, but in people who do not have an allergy, a bacterial infection may be the rare cause for the scratch taking longer to heal along with being itchy and swollen. The most common bacterial infection cats can pass on to those they scratch or bite is the Cat Scratch Disease, caused by the bacteria Bartonella henselae. This is an infection, also called the Cat Scratch Fever, that cats can get from fleas and spread to humans through scratches and bites. It is carried in the saliva of both adult and young cats and can get to their paws during the process of grooming themselves. Thus, you should always avoid getting licks from cats on an open wound. This disease is not serious in most cases and tends to heal on its own within a month. In any case, the best thing to do when a cat scratches and you want to prevent an infection like the Cat Scratch Disease (CSD), is to wash your skin with soap and water, and applying an antibiotic ointment or take antibiotics.

If you enjoyed this article, why not also read about why do cats bury their poopand why do cats hiss out here on Kidadl?

Do cat scratches require medical attention?

Cat scratches do not always require medical attention. However, when the scratches, along with the symptoms of swelling and redness, do not heal on their own within a couple of weeks, it can be because of an infection. In these cases, consulting a doctor would be a good idea.

Cats are indeed very clean animals, but they can still carry bacteria that can go on and infect human beings when they interact with their loving pets. Although they can collect bacteria from many sources, the bacteria caused by a flea's bite, called the Bartonella henselae, is what causes the Cat Scratch Disease. They can also have bacteria get stuck on their paws when they scratch at a flea as it will come in contact with the flea dirt or droppings on their skin. Similarly, while grooming or licking their paws, this bacteria can get into their saliva as well. Thus, when a cat with the bacteria, B. henselae in its paws scratches a human or licks on their open wounds, it will spread to them as well and lead them to develop the Cat Scratch Disease (CSD). The symptoms of CSD could appear one to three weeks after the initial scratch and they include fatigue, loss of appetite, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and swelling and redness around the area where the cat scratched. In most healthy people who do not have cat-related allergies, Cat Scratch Disease or Cat Scratch Fever will go away on its own but seeing a doctor is the best course of action. The treatment for CSD generally involves an antibiotics prescription to get rid of the symptoms. This disease is mostly transmitted through kittens as they love to play around more and so, are more likely to scratch you and pass on bacteria to a person leading to an infection. It is advisable to wash the wound or scratch with soap and water as soon as it happens, take antibiotics, and also make sure your feline friends don't scratch or lick you on an open wound in the first place by taking some precautions.

Signs A Cat Gives You Before It Scratches

To prevent a cat scratch wound infection which could lead to Cat Scratch Disease (CSD), it is important to know when a cat is about to scratch you. Most of these are very subtle but learning about them and understanding your cat's behavior will go a long way in building trust between you and your feline friend.

Despite the common misconception that cats are unpredictable, their behavior can be learned pretty easily to reduce the amount of scratching they do. Cats will often present their bellies to their owners as if they want tummy rubs. However, after a couple of minutes, they might start to feel insecure as their belly is their most vulnerable area. They might stop purring and start twitching their tails as a sign of discomfort, after which they could start scratching and biting their owners.

Other warning signs your cat may give you before they give you scratches or bites wound include narrowed eyes, stiff body, growling or hissing, raised hair on its back and many more as each cat will display a different body language.

How often should you cut the cat's nails?

Kitten scratching orange fabric sofa.

A cat's nails could also be a huge factor in them wanting to scratch you as untrimmed cat nails might make it hard for the cat to retract its claws. This will lead to them scratching you even if they don't want to, and also make it easier for them to do so if they want to.

A cat's claws grow pretty fast and may even become a cause for great pain for the cat if they are not trimmed regularly. Longer claws will also easily accumulate and come in contact with bacteria from its skin, making the cat scratches itch later and even develop into an infection. Thus, they should be carefully trimmed every 10-14 days.

Why does a cat scratch?

There are many reasons why your cat's scratching at you or your furniture and it is very important to figure out why exactly your cat might be scratching at you.

It is important for cats to scratch and it should not be punished when it is being done appropriately as cats need to scratch at surfaces, such as scratching posts, to keep their claws short and in shape. They need to be trained early on, as kittens, to not scratch at you as your hand is not a toy. This can be done by only using your hands to pet and carry your pet kittens but using toys to play with them. However, they can still scratch at you later in their lives for many reasons. It could be because they suddenly feel anxious and uneasy while being petted and need you to stop, in which case using their claws is the only option they have to communicate with you. There can also be medical reasons such as a hidden wound or flea infestations. Cats can also have diseases like hyperesthesia in which they might suffer from seizures that might make them aggressive. Thus, it is important to know why your cat scratches at you and get them the required attention, medical or otherwise.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for why do cat scratches itch, then why not take a look at why do cats sleep so much, or Singapura cat facts.

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Written by Abhijeet Modi

Master of Computer Science

Abhijeet Modi picture

Abhijeet ModiMaster of Computer Science

An experienced and innovative entrepreneur and creative writer, Abhijeet holds a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Computer Application from Birla Institute of Technology, Jaipur. He co-founded an e-commerce website while developing his skills in content writing, making him an expert in creating blog posts, website content, product descriptions, landing pages, and editing articles. Passionate about pushing his limits, Abhijeet brings both technical expertise and creative flair to his work.

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