Sunday’s Toronto Sun contained an article entitled "Woman’s hand disfigured by cat attack" with the compulsory gross picture. The story is about Brenda Sims, who took in a feral cat, was then bitten by the cat, and then developed severe complications from the bite. The situation is a reminder of the potential problems encountered when dealing with feral animals (cats included) and complications that can occur from any cat bite.

Back in April, Ms. Sims took in a young male cat that she described as "five pounds of pure disease."  The cat, named Cheech, had been taken off the streets and was clearly not someone’s lost pet. Cheech began following her around the house, growling and hissing. Not surprisingly, the well-meaning woman was eventually bitten. 

Ms. Sims has had multiple surgeries since then, including one that removed a large section of tissue from her hand and replaced it with some taken from her thigh. She’s been largely unable to work since the injury and faces long term problems with function and appearance of her hand.

Ms. Sims is warning people about the dangers of feral cats. "It’s like taking a tiger out of the jungle and into your home, and expecting it to be all good, and be a house cat..."

Dr. John Embil, Director of Infection Prevention and Control for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority echoes her warning about feral cats, adding that feral cats can transmit rabies or severe bacterial infections such as Pasteurella multocida through bites. That’s very true and a good reminder, but it perhaps overstates the importance of "feral." Any cat can carry Pasteurella multocida, along with many other problematic bacteria, in its mouth. A bite from any cat – domestic or feral – can cause serious infections. While an individual feral cat may be more likely to bite than am individual pet cat, most cat bites and cat bite infections are presumably from pet cats because people have more contact with them.

Dr. Embil highlights the problem with cat bites: "The concern we have with cat bites is that the teeth are very long, sharp and pointy. And those teeth can puncture deeply. You can get serious infections." Cat bites can be similar to injecting a bacterial cocktail deep into the tissues, not surprisingly resulting in infection in many cases.

Some take home messages:

  • Leave rescuing feral cats to people with experience.
  • If you want to rescue a cat, get it from a shelter, humane society or other reputable and experienced organization. They will have assessed the cat’s behaviour and health status, which will decrease the chance that you’ll get an aggressive and/or sick cat.
  • If a cat constantly stalks you around the house looking like it’s going to attack (and not like it wants to play), it probably will attack and it shouldn’t be in your house.
  • Any cat bite can cause severe complications. Every cat bite should be taken seriously and medical advice should be sought. Bites over the hands, feet, joints, tendons, genitals or in people with compromised immune systems typically require antibiotics to help prevent infection.

More information about cat bites can be found on the Worms & Germs Resources page.