My cat bites!
With sleepy eyes and a comically kinked tail, Sammy does not look like a dangerous character. But Sammy put me in the hospital.For four days.
As I lay in that bed, hour after hour, hooked up to an intravenous cocktail of antibiotics, I had plenty of time to rue the stupidity that put me there.
Sammy bit me. Although I didn't take it seriously at the time, a bite from a small cat can be a big problem, thanks to the nature of the bite itself and the kinds of bacteria carried by cats and people. For some people, in fact, it can be deadly.
"A cat bite is nothing to trivialise," said Nancy Peterson, cat programs manager at the Humane Society of the United States.
Up to 50 per cent of cat bites become infected, said Princy N. Kumar, head of the infectious-diseases division at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. But, like me, many people don't take the injury seriously enough.
"People underestimate" the danger, Kumar said, and don't realise they should get a bite looked at right away. "They don't realise, being bitten by a cat, you've got a 1-in-2 chance of getting infected."
My first mistake was getting in the middle of a fight.
Sammy, a street cat who had just joined our family, did not like established resident Blue. When I heard a blood-curdling yowl from the spare bedroom late one night, I decided to remove one of the combatants.
When I reached down to pick him up him, Sammy wrapped his legs around my right arm and plunged his teeth into my wrist. Deep-red, venous blood ran out of two puncture wounds, and the area began to swell. I washed the wound well (after shrieking and dropping the cat), put some ice on it and kept it elevated for a while. I figured the swelling would be gone by morning.
The next day, my arm was puffy and I couldn't move my fingers well. My wrist felt hot to the touch. I tried more ice and elevation.
That was my second mistake: minimising the problem and treating the bite myself. A significant cat bite always requires medical intervention,
"If you got a really bad bite, you should get prophylactic antibiotics," Kumar said. A light nip is not a problem, she said, but seek help if the cat has really sunk its teeth in — "if you see a puncture wound and blood coming out of it."
Unlike dogs, which tend to deliver superficial, crushing bites that don't penetrate far into tissue, cats inflict puncture wounds with their long teeth, which inject bacteria from the cat's mouth and the environment deep into tissue.
And, Peterson said, "cats have a pretty potent bacteria." A lesson learned. (Marie Joyce/The Washington Post)