What Are the Signs of Cat Scratch Fever?

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  • Written By: Drue Tibbits
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2019
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Cat scratch fever is a common term for cat scratch disease (CSD). It is a bacterial infection caused by exposure to the saliva of infected cats. The most common signs of cat scratch fever are swelling of the lymph glands closest to the exposure site, a slightly elevated temperature, fatigue, and headaches. Papules, or blisters, may appear at the exposure site, and sufferers may experience nausea and vomiting.

Symptoms develop within three to 12 days after exposure to the bacteria. The lymph nodes in the head, neck, and upper limbs are most often affected, and they can remain swollen and tender for up to six weeks. In rare cases, they may develop chronic inflammation and drain pus. The nausea and vomiting associated with the infection can decrease appetite and lead to weight loss.

The bacterium responsible for cat scratch fever, Bartonella henselae, is found in the saliva of infected cats. It is a common infection, with as many as 40% of cats carrying the infection at some point in their lives. Kittens carry it more often than grown cats. Infected cats are asymptomatic and do not show any signs of the infection.


Although CSD is commonly referred to as cat scratch fever, a scratch from a cat is only one way the bacteria is spread. A person can become infected from a cat bite or even from stroking a cat’s fur. Cats clean themselves by licking their fur, thereby exposing their fur to their saliva. An animal carrying the infection can spread the disease by licking a person if the person has a cut or a sore on his or her skin.

Either a blood test or a positive response to a skin-test antigen can indicate cat scratch fever. The infection is treated with antibiotics, which may reducing the severity of the symptoms. Most people recover fully from the illness, even without treatment. If left untreated, cat scratch fever can last as long as 12 weeks.

In order to prevent CSD, people who are around cats should wash their hands with soap and water after touching or playing with the animals. Cat scratches and bites should be immediately cleaned with soap and water. People can limit the spread of the disease by avoiding playing roughly with cats, an activity that encourages cats to use their claws and teeth in mock battles. Any person who shows signs of cat scratch fever should see a medical professional.


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Post 4

@StoneMason: Yes even if the cat stays indoors, you can still get the disease. However, it's highly unlikely.

I have an infection from a recent scratch so I know what happens. I had a female cat for 14 years (passed away a year ago) and now a young cat about a year old. He is clean, the vet checked everything and I still got an infection.

He scratched me on the lower side of the leg because he was playing, something we want to teach him not to do. Anyway, after a day the area became red and was very swollen. Two days later I went to my doctor and she has given me medicine (Staphycid) and cream (Affusine).


if the area becomes extremely swollen is there a real possibility of health issues, so don't worry you'll get an infection like I did.

The cat can get this, for example, when he or she uses a litterbox in the house (feces related bacteria) or it can be bacteria you got from somewhere that went into your bloodstream because of the scratch.

In any case, consult a doctor soon, but don't panic and you don't have to be afraid of your cat even when you get scratched. I got scratched probably a 1000 times in all those years and this is the first time I've had something like this. And I don't have much pain, only a little bit and a headache and that's all.

Post 3

@donasmrs-- You should go back and get your lymph nodes tested for this bacteria. Most doctors don't think of cat scratch disease first when they see these symptoms. That's why many often get diagnosed late and sometimes never at all. You might need antibiotics if your lymph nodes don't go back to normal soon.

Post 2

I've been experiencing symptoms of cat scratch fever-- swollen lymph nodes, fever, body aches and pains for three weeks. I've been to the doctor three times, I had numerous blood tests done and still no diagnosis.

While looking up my symptoms online, I came across this article. It all makes sense now because I went to see my cousin three weeks ago and I tried to pet her cat who scratched me! I guess I just have to wait until the infection runs its course.

Post 1

I have a cat and I play with her all the time. She bites and scratches me often.

I wish there was a way to know if my cat has cat scratch fever bacteria. I'm scared about getting it now but I don't want to stop playing with my cat. I've never had cat scratch fever symptoms thankfully. I hope I never do.

By the way, my cat is a house cat. She doesn't go outside or interact with other cats. Can she still get this bacteria and give it to me?

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