There’s a popular adage when it comes to fighting that goes “Fight like cats and dogs”—and this is so commonly used for a reason! Cats and dogs can clash, with even a friendly, well-meaning dog sometimes getting on the receiving end of a cat’s claws.
If your dog gets scratched by a cat, it’s important to know what to do and what the possible outcomes of a cat scratch injury can be.
What Should I Do If My Dog Gets Scratched by a Cat?
Cat Scratch Wounds on Dogs: Treatment
If you have a concern about your dog, then your veterinarian will give them a physical examination.
If the scratch from the cat is on your dog’s eye then they will perform a closer examination of that area. They may need to apply a local anesthetic and use a dye called fluorescein which will highlight any subtle scratches or ulcers on the surface of the eye. Painkillers and antibiotic eye drops may be required, though more serious eye injuries may require surgery.
If the scratches are deep skin wounds, your veterinarian may need to clip the fur and clean the area thoroughly. Antibiotics may be indicated if there are any signs of infection, but most superficial wounds won’t require medication.
If your dog is unwell then further tests such as blood samples may be taken to rule out conditions like cat scratch fever (bartonellosis), but this is not routine. Very rarely, your pet may need a rabies shot, but this is only usually necessary if you suspect the attacking cat had rabies.
Can a Dog Get Sick From a Cat Scratch?
The most common place for a dog to get scratched is on its face, and eye injuries are common. A scratch can cause damage to the cornea (the surface of the eye), which could form an ulcer. Eye injuries can be serious, particularly if treatment isn’t started promptly.
Scratches to the skin tend to be superficial, so most will heal well with minimal treatment. Cat’s claws can carry bacteria, however, so there is always the chance of a wound becoming infected. Bite wounds are even more likely to cause abscesses and infections.
Can a Dog Get Rabies From a Cat Scratch?
The risk of a dog catching rabies from a scratch is low. Rabies is a virus that is transmitted via the saliva of an infected animal, so bite wounds more commonly spread rabies. However, there is still a small chance as cats lick and groom their paws, so infected saliva residue could be present on their claws.
If your dog has had his routine rabies shots this will help reduce the risk of contracting the disease. Speak to your veterinarian urgently if you have reason to suspect that the cat attacking your dog had rabies.
Can Dogs Get Cat Scratch Fever?
Cat scratch fever is caused by bacteria called Bartonella of which there are several different species, but a type called Bartonella henselae is commonly identified. The bacteria are usually transmitted via parasites like fleas, ticks, and lice. These parasites feed on the blood of an infected animal and then pass this infection on to the next animal that they bite.
The bacteria can also be found in the parasite’s feces. If the feces from an infected flea or louse gets into a skin wound on an uninfected animal, they may pass on the Bartonella bacteria to them this way.
So, it is possible for your dog to get cat scratch fever from a scratch, but the risk is low unless there are parasites and/or their infected feces present.
Will My Dog Be Okay After Being Scratched by a Cat?
In most cases, dogs are fine following an attack from a cat, as scratch wounds tend to be fairly superficial. They don’t usually require stitches or routinely require antibiotics either.
Bathing the wounds your dog received from a cat scratch with diluted antiseptic can be helpful, and you should monitor the wounds for any signs of infection or swelling. An eye injury will need an examination, but even the majority of these do well with appropriate treatment.
How Long Does It Take for a Scratch on a Dog’s Eye to Heal?
This depends on how bad the scratch was. Most are very small and could heal within a few days to a week with appropriate medications like antibiotic eye drops. However, in rare cases, a dog’s eye can become punctured during a fight, or even for the cat’s claw to be shed and remain stuck in the eye itself. This is more serious and may even need advice from a veterinary ophthalmologist (a veterinarian who specializes in eyes). Deeper wounds may cause permanent scarring or damage, particularly in young puppies.
How to Stop Your Cat From Attacking Your Dog
If it’s your own cat that frequently attacks your dog, you may want to take some steps to protect both of them. Make sure your cat has escape routes from the dog and areas in the house that it can retreat to. Stair gates can be useful for this (with cats being able to squeeze through the railings or leap over the top) or cat flaps in doors. Make sure your cat’s food, water, and litter trays are out of the reach of your dog to avoid areas of conflict. Puppies are more at risk of getting scratched as they haven’t learned proper social cues yet and aren’t very good at blinking to protect their eyes from danger.
If your cat is generally stressed, then a plug-in calming pheromone diffuser can be useful. You may want to seek advice from an animal behaviorist- your vet will be able to put you in touch with a reputable one.
In most cases, a dog will be fine following a cat scratch, but consult your veterinarian if the wound looks infected, your dog seems unwell, or if your dog’s eye is injured. Try and avoid future incidents by reducing conflict at home, and in particular try and keep puppies safe whilst they are learning their way in the world!