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Why Do Cat Scratches Itch? 5 Vet Reviewed Possible Reasons


May 15, 2023
The Cat and the Scratched Man


The Cat and the Scratched Man's Hand close up
Dr. Joanna Woodnutt Photo

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Cats have the need to scratch; it’s an inevitable instinctive behavior that they can’t control. So, during playtime, many cat parents end up with scratches all over their bodies.

While some people may have a mild, normal reaction to a cat scratch, others may feel itchy in the area, to the point that the itching is severe and causes further problems. Usually, itchiness is normal because the skin is inflamed and irritated, but it could also be an allergic reaction.

This article goes over why cat scratches itch, if they’re harmful to our health, and how we can protect ourselves from getting new scratches and prevent our cats from scratching us in the first place.


The 5 Reasons That Your Skin May Itch After a Cat Scratches You

1. Normal Reaction to Skin Healing

Whenever you have a wound or a scratch on your body, whether your cat scratched you or you touched something sharp, the skin will slowly start to heal after the incident.

Cat scratches can be superficial or cut deep into your skin and bleed. After your skin starts to bleed, the cells will start to clump and clot,1 eventually forming into a dry scab, which may lead to itching.

This type of itching after you’ve been scratched by your cat is an entirely normal reaction to your skin healing, and it shouldn’t alarm you.

A hand with bloody scars from a cat scratch
Image Credit: Poommipat T, Shutterstock

2. Skin Barrier Disruption

Anything that creates a tear in the skin, including cat scratches, causes cells to release inflammatory particles and molecules. These activate particular nerve fibers, which is why any skin barrier disruption could lead to itching.2

This is a natural process, but the itching sensation in people may vary from extremely mild to extremely severe. Those with pre-existing skin conditions typically tend to feel itchier than people without skin problems.

While it may be tempting to scratch your itching cat wound, it’s best not to touch the scratch at all. Scratching a fresh wound could lead to more itchiness and possible bacterial infections.

3. Cat Scratch Disease (CSD)

Cat scratches can cause cat scratch disease,3 a bacterial infection from your cat’s saliva that causes itching. These bacteria are typically passed on to humans through scratches and bites but can also infect you if a cat licks your open wound.

Several risk factors may increase the risk of getting contaminated with this disease:

  • Being around cats on a daily basis
  • Not taking proper hygiene actions after getting a cat scratch
  • Allowing your cat to lick you and your wounds
  • Being around cat flea infestations

When a person suffers from CSD, they will likely experience the following signs and symptoms:

  • Itching
  • The scratch spot becoming inflamed and red
  • Enlarged glands near the scratch site (under the arms/in the groin)
  • Body rashes, allergies, and irritations
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased appetite
Hand after cat scratch
Image Credit: novak.elcic, Shutterstock

4. Cat Allergy

Pet allergies are common, and many people worldwide are allergic to cats or more specifically, the protein found in cat saliva and sebaceous glands.

If you suffer from cat allergies and get scratched by a cat, you’ll likely experience more itching than a non-allergic person would. In many cases, if you get scratched by a cat and are allergic, your doctor will prescribe antihistamines to reduce your reaction.

5. Ringworm

Cats can transfer various diseases, viruses, and infections to us through their saliva, hair, bites, and scratches. A common fungus that cats can transmit to humans is ringworm.

Young and senior people are more susceptible to getting this condition from cats, though no human is entirely safe from it. If a cat has ringworm and scratches you, they will likely transmit the fungus to you, which may result in a red, itching rash near the scratch area.

Ringworm on Arm with Hand
Image Credit: Ternavskaia Olga Alibec, Shutterstock


Are Cat Scratches Harmful to Our Health?

Cat scratches are not too harmful but they’re also not entirely safe. Sometimes, you may not even feel that your feline scratched you. Other times, the scratch may be severe and lead to CSD, allergies, or ringworm.

Cat scratches can harm human health because they can transmit diseases, parasites, and fungi. Health problems that you could experience after getting scratched by a cat include:

  • Rabies — This condition represents a viral infection of a person’s central nervous system. Animals can transmit this infection to humans through scratches and bites, though the condition is very rare. Most signs of this disease resemble that of the flu; you may experience muscle weakness, fever, and a burning sensation at the bite/scratch area.
  • Tetanus — This bacterial infection can be transmitted from animals to humans, which means your cat could transmit it to you by scratching you. The symptoms of tetanus typically include stiffness, fever, muscle spasms, and seizures. Occasionally, tetanus can be fatal to humans, but antitoxin and/or toxoid injections are available to prevent this infection from developing in the body.
vaccination shot
Image Credit: PhotobyTawat, Shutterstock

How Can I Protect Myself From Cat Scratches?

Although there’s no way to remain entirely safe from cat scratches if you own a cat, there are things that you can do to reduce the chances of getting scratched:

  • Regularly trim your cat’s nails and keep them short to prevent scratches.
  • Do not encourage your cat to play with your hands; try to practice toy play instead.
  • Avoid petting your cat in sensitive areas to avoid exaggerated reactions, such as scratching you.
  • Be careful when picking up your cat.
  • Wear clothing that covers your hands when around your cat.
  • Provide more scratchers for your feline.
  • Purchase soft caps for your cat’s claws.


Final Thoughts

Cat scratches may itch due to several reasons. Typically, they itch as a normal sign of wound healing and as a reaction to skin barrier disruption. However, if the itching is severe and continuous, there’s a possibility that your cat transferred CSD, ringworm, or another infection to you.

Since the chances of bacterial and fungal infections are higher for people who own cats, it’s best to be careful when handling your feline and ensure that you protect yourself from scratches as much as possible.

Featured Image Credit: Vera Aksionava, Shutterstock

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