Cat scratch fever is a bacterial infection. It can start after a scratch or bite from a cat, kitten, or rarely a dog.
For some it can become a serious condition that needs care.
Cat scratch fever is caused by bacteria found in fleas. The bacteria are passed to cats through flea bites.
Cat scratch fever is most common in children and adolescents. It is more common in the southern U.S.. The main risk is being bitten or scratched by a cat or kitten.
Symptoms of cat scratch fever may be:
- A crusting sore or blister at the bite or scratch site
- Swollen, painful lymph nodes
- Flu-like symptoms such as:
- Fever and chills
- Feeling tired and weak
- Body aches and headaches
- Sore throat
- Nausea, lack of hunger, and weight loss
- Eye redness
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Rarely, people develop serious problems, such as infections of the:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may suspect cat scratch fever based on symptoms and a recent bite or scratch. Blood tests can confirm the diagnosis. If symptoms are unusual or severe, other tests may be done.
Cat-scratch fever will often pass on its own, without treatment. Those with more severe symptoms will need treatment. Options may be:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers—to manage discomfort
- Antibiotics by mouth or IV—for people who are very ill or have weak immune systems
- Lymph node drainage—a needle is used to drain very swollen or very painful nodes
To reduce the risk of cat scratch fever:
- Keep pets free of fleas.
- Try to avoid scratches or bites from cats or kittens.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Winn Feline Foundation
Canadian Veterinary Medical Association
Cat-scratch disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases/cat-scratch.html. Accessed March 30, 2021.
Cat-scratch disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/bartonella-henselae-cat-scratch-disease. Accessed March 30, 2021.
Mabra D, Yeh S, et al. Ocular manifestations of bartonellosis. Curr Opin Ophthalmol. 2018;29(6):582-587.
Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP Last Updated: 3/30/2021