Cat Bite Prevention

Dog Bite Prevention Week occurs in May and was devoted to educating the public about the dangers of dog bites and ways to avoid them.  Certainly dog bites are a serious problem with an estimated 4.5 million people bitten in the U.S. each year.  But cats also injure people. And as the popularity of cats has increased, so have the opportunities for cat bites.  What do we know about cat injuries and what has been done to help prevent injuries from cats?

We actually know very little about the frequency of and the number of people injured by cat bites.  Few research studies about cat bites have been conducted, and to our knowledge there have been no surveys of the general population or of cat owners asking about bite frequency.  Research about dog bites tells us that about 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year. Do cats injure people more often or less often than dogs?  We don’t know.  

Intuitively, we would think that cat bite injuries would be less serious than dog bite injuries.  After all, cats are smaller than most dogs, have smaller mouths and can inflict less serious trauma than most dogs.  There have been no recorded deaths in the U.S. directly attributed to a cat injury while there are about 15-25 people who die as a direct result of dog bites every year.  

However, medical researchers report that cat bites are more likely to become infected than dog bites and that the infections can lead to complications and more prolonged treatment.  Furthermore, it is claimed that cats are much more likely to carry rabies than dogs, and that far fewer cats are vaccinated against rabies than dogs.  This makes the risk of rabies from cat bites far higher than from dog bites (Reviewed in Wright, 1990).

Several studies have examined public health records for incidence of reported cat injuries. Records from local health departments for the state of Indiana from 1990-1992 show that dog bites accounted for 78% of all animal bites reported, cat bites accounted for 16% and other animals (raccoons, rats, horses) accounted for the remaining 6% (Sinclair & Zhou, 1995).

One of the earliest and most comprehensive studies was from the city of Dallas, Texas in the year 1985.  In that year, cat bites accounted for 25% of the reported animal bites in the city (Wright, 1990).  Dr. John Wright, the researcher, looked at the circumstances of the cat injuries including the characteristics of the cat, the victim and the physical setting.  

Stray, un-owned female cats accounted for the majority of the bites, with most bites occurring in the summer months.  The victims were more often adult women.  Seventy percent of the injuries were described as scratches with 63% of injuries delivered to the hands or fingers.  Eighty-one percent of victims got care for the wound, with the majority doing home first aid.

A study of animal bite data from the city of El Paso, Texas for 1995 showed similar results (Patrick & O’Rourke, 1998).  These authors reported that cat bites accounted for 14% of animal bites during that year.  They also found that most of the cats were un-owned strays, but unlike the Dallas data, slightly more than half were males.  Adult women were the most common victims, and the majority of wounds were to the hands and fingers.  They also reported that the majority of wounds were received when the victims tried to pet or pick up the cat.

A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that on average 66,000 people sought help for cat injuries in hospital emergency departments every year (O’Neil et al., 2007).  This compares with a yearly average of 370,000 people seeking emergency services for dog bites. Cat bites accounted for about 15% of both dog and cat bites treated annually in emergency departments.  Women were more likely to be treated in emergency departments for cat bites than were men.

The pattern that emerges is that the circumstances and victims of cat injuries are different from those of dog bite injuries.  Most dogs that bite are not strays but are known to the victim, but most cat bite injuries are from strays and cats unknown to the victim.  Most dog bite victims are male children, most cat bite victims are adult women.  These data suggest that the strategies for preventing cat bites will need to be different from those for preventing dog bites.  

What sorts of programs are in place to help prevent cat injuries to people?  Not many.  There is one educational video for children providing good advice about how to avoid cat and dog injuries both from known and unknown animals (“Dogs, Cats and Kids”).  There is very little written information to help the public avoid cat injuries.  




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