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My Dog Got Scratched By A Cat. Should I Be Worried?

If you own a cat and a dog or have a nosy feline neighbor, it's only a matter of time before someone picks a fight. Some cats may even have some serious aggression issues. Veterinarian Rebecca MacMillan looks at what to do and when you should be concerned if a cat scratches your dog.

Dr. Rebecca MacMillan

Last Updated: May 9, 2022 | 7 min read

Frightened cat defends itself and attacking dog walking outdoors

This article was written by a veterinarian, but it should not substitute as contact with a trained professional. If your dog ate cat poop and is reacting adversely, contact your local veterinarian immediately. When you buy something through one of the links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Despite our best efforts to keep our pets safe, accidents can happen. Getting scratched by a cat is sadly a common injury that can occur to even the most well-meaning dog. ‘Fighting like cats and dogs’ is a well-known saying, and there is some truth to it.

The most common way a scratch injury occurs is through pets in the same household clashing. When in a confined space, your cat may feel threatened and be more inclined to lash out. If a cat in the street came across a dog, its first instinct is probably to run away, but this is not possible in a home environment.

Let’s find out more about why injuries from cats happen and how to help your dog and cat get along and coexist peacefully.

Why Do Cats Scratch Dogs?

Generally, cats try to avoid confrontation where possible and seek refuge upstairs or in a different room, but if you notice your dog keeps approaching them, then they have no choice but to fire a warning shot. This usually comes in the form of a hiss, swat, or scratch. It doesn’t matter if your pup is just being inquisitive or if they are acting aggressively, if your cat has had enough, then they may lash out.

Clashes are also likely to occur when neighboring cats enter your yard, especially if you have a territorial dog.

Can A Dog Get Sick From A Cat Scratch?

Frightened cat defends and attacks, the red kitten arches its back in fear of the dog, on the other side of the glass door of the terrace
Dogs and cats can even try to fight even though there is a barrier between them.

The most common place for a dog to get scratched is on their face, with eye injuries being particularly common. A scratch on the eye can damage the delicate cornea (the eye’s surface). This could lead to an ulcer on the eye, which can be pretty sore. A puncture injury could occur, especially if a bit of claw becomes embedded in the eye. Eye injuries can be severe, mainly if treatment isn’t started promptly. Always get your dog to a vet as soon as possible for suspected eye trauma.

Other scratches elsewhere on the body are likely to be superficial and usually heal well without too much intervention. But as with any wound, there is always the chance of infection if bacteria has been introduced via the cat’s claws. If your cat bites your dog, this is even more likely to result in a nasty abscess or an infection.

Can Dogs Catch Cat Scratch Fever?

Infection most commonly causes bartonellosis or ‘cat scratch’ fever with a bacteria called Bartonella henselae. This bacteria is usually spread by parasites like fleas, ticks, and lice. These parasites suck the blood from an infected animal and then transmit it to the next animal that they bite. The bacteria is also found in the parasite’s feces (composed of digested blood).

If these infected parasite feces get into a skin wound on an uninfected animal, then the disease can be passed on in this way. This could happen if an infected cat with fleas scratched themselves, got flea dirt under their nails, and then lashed out and injured a dog. The risk of this happening is low but could potentially occur.

Not all dogs become sick if they contract Bartonellosis, most are fine. For those that do, the symptoms of cat scratch fever include:

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Joint pain
  • Breathing issues
  • Enlarged lymph nodes

Always seek help from a vet if you are concerned your dog is sick. Many of the symptoms of this illness are similar to those seen in other diseases, so it is best to get things checked out.

Could A Dog Get Rabies From A Cat Scratch?

Catching rabies from a cat scratching them is unlikely. The rabies virus is transmitted from the saliva of an infected animal, so the usual method of transmission is via bite injury. Technically, if a cat infected with rabies had been licking and grooming its paws, the infected saliva could remain as a residue on its nails. So, there is a small risk of rabies being transferred in this way, but it is not a common occurrence.

Assuming your dog has had his routine rabies shots, this significantly reduces the risk of contracting the disease, so you should always keep these up to date. If you have concerns that a rabid cat attacked your dog then you should speak to a vet as soon as possible for advice.

What Can I Do If A Cat Scratched My Dog?

at scratch dog claws, pink tongue and dog is scared
Cats might be all fun and games until it gets serious.

1. Stay Safe

First, try and stop the cat and dog fighting to prevent any further injuries. You must make sure you don’t put yourself at risk by doing this. You could try and make a loud noise to distract them, like banging some pots together or whistling, or perhaps you could spray them with water. Most of the time, the cat just lashes out and then back off, so you may be able to just remove your dog from the area. If you do become injured yourself, make sure you get checked out by a doctor.

2. Check Your Dog For Injuries

The most common area for dogs to get scratched is their face. Look for any blood or wounds, and check to see whether he is holding his eyes open ok. If he is squinting or holding one shut, this could indicate an injury.

3. Call Your Veterinarian

Call your vet if you find a deep wound or an eye injury. They may want to examine your dog.

4. Follow Your Veterinarian’s Advice.

If your vet asks to see your dog, then bring him to the vet as soon as possible. Eye injuries, in particular, need prompt treatment, or they could become even more severe. Your vet may suggest further treatments depending on the findings of their exam.

5. Find Ways Of Reducing The Risk Of Fights In The Future

If the fight was between your dog and a cat that also lives in your household, you might need to take steps to try and reduce the risk of it happening again. Things like ensuring your cat can get away from the dog if it wants, discouraging your dog from harassing the cat, and providing calming pheromones to reduce stress can be helpful.

How Do I Treat For A Cat Scratch Wound?

The treatment advised for your pet depends on the location of their injury.

If your dog’s eye is injured, then your vet looks at this closely. They may need to apply some local anesthetic drops to make things more comfortable while they check it out. A special dye called fluorescein can also be used to highlight any small scratches or ulcers on the surface of the eye. If a problem is found then your vet may prescribe pain killers as well as antibiotic eyedrops. More serious eye injuries could require surgery.

If your dog has sustained a deep skin wound, then your vet may clip the fur in that area so they clean the wound more effectively. If there are any signs of infection, your vet may suggest antibiotics, but most scratch wounds are superficial and won’t need any medication.

If your dog becomes sick following an injury from a cat, further tests such as blood samples might be recommended to rule out conditions like Bartonellosis. This is not standard, though as most dogs don’t become poorly with Bartonella infection.

Will My Dog Be Okay After A Cat Scratch?

Most dogs are fine following an attack from a cat, as most scratches are quite superficial. Stitches are rarely needed, and many wounds won’t require antibiotics either. The best treatment tends to be bathing the wound to clean it, with dilute antiseptic, as well as keeping an eye on the area in case any signs of infection or swelling occur.

Eye injuries can be a bit more serious depending on how badly the eye has been damaged. There is always the option to be checked out by a vet, but even then, most do well with appropriate treatment. Many scratches to the cornea are very small and could heal within a few days to a week with appropriate medications like antibiotic eye drops.

However, in very 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. These injuries are more serious and may even need advice from a veterinary ophthalmologist (a veterinarian who specializes in eyes). Deeper wounds like this may cause permanent scarring or damage to the surface of the eye, particularly in young puppies.

Can I Stop My Cat From Attacking My Dog?

Playful puppy playing with kitten
Follow these tips for how to help your pets play nice.

Most fights seen are between household pets. So if it is your own cat that has scratched your dog you may want to take some measures to reduce the chances of it happening again.

  • Make sure your cat has escape routes from the dog, such as stair gates they can squeeze through to get to areas of the house that the dog can’t or cat flaps to get outside.
  • Make sure your cat’s food, water, and litter trays are out of the reach of your dog to avoid areas of potential conflict and fighting.
  • Puppies are more at risk of getting scratched as they haven’t learned proper social cues yet and are more likely to pester the cat due to their inquisitive and playful nature. They also aren’t very good at blinking to protect their eyes from danger. Always supervise your puppy when he is interacting with the cat.
  • If your cat is generally stressed by a dog being in the house, then a plug-in calming pheromone diffuser could be useful.
  • Seek advice from a qualified animal behaviorist if you are continuing to have problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I Take My Dog To The Vet For A Cat Scratch?

If your dog only has superficial scratches on his skin, you could clean these and keep an eye on them. Any signs of swelling, redness, or discharge could indicate infection occurring, and a trip to the vet is needed. Eye injuries are different and should always be promptly checked out by your vet.

What To Do If Your Dog’s Eye Is Scratched?

Always get your dog checked out by a vet if you suspect his eye has been scratched. Even if you can’t see much, your vet may be able to detect small scratches or ulcers on the cornea using a special dye. Left untreated these could become worse over time and could lead to serious problems.

Can A Dog Get Bartonella From A Cat Scratch?

While it is possible for a dog to contract Bartonella from a cat, it is very unlikely. Bartonella is more commonly seen in people injured by cats than it is in dogs. However, if your pup seems unwell following an injury from a cat then it is always best to get them checked out.

Final Thoughts

Most injuries from a cat’s claws tend to be superficial, and the majority of dogs survive without a scratch. But eye injuries have the potential to be a bit more serious. Always get your dog checked over by a vet if you are worried about what you see, especially if there are alarming symptoms. Try and reduce future fights from happening by giving your cat areas he can escape from the dog and by supervising young puppies closely.

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