New Findings on Cat-Scratch Disease Every Pet Parent Should Know

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a study regarding cat-scratch disease (CSD) in the United States, and the findings are worth every pet parent taking note of for their health.

“There are millions of cats in the United States and they are beloved cats for many people, but its helpful for people to be aware of how they can prevent cat-scratch disease and the disease in general,” says Dr. Christina A. Nelson of the CDC, who conducted the study alongside Dr. Paul S. Mead and Shubhayu Saha.

According to the CDC, CSD is an infectious disease caused by the Bartonella henselae bacteria, which is spread to cats and maintained by the cat flea. CSD can be transmitted to humans by scratch, bites, and in some rare cases, licks, if a cat licks an open wound or abrasion. (It is of note, however, that CSD cannot be transferred by you giving your cat a kiss.)

So how would one know if they are suffering from CSD? The typical resonse to CSD includes lymph node swelling and, in some cases, fatigue.  “An atypical response to cat-scratch disease can take many different forms,” Nelson explains. “It can infect bones, and it can also — in rare circumstances — infect the brain and heart valves, which may require surgery.”

The study, which looked at cases of CSD in people from 2005 to 2013, found that during their case study period, the “highest average annual CSD incidence for outpatients and inpatients was among children 5–9 years of age.” They also discovered that most cases were found in the southern United States.

Nelson tells petMD that this is because fleas (who carry the bacteria to cats) prefer the moist conditions of the South, as opposed to more arid climates. She also theorizes that because children are more likely to get down and play with cats, their risk of being scratched increases.

One of the most notable findings in the study is that, while typically CSD cases were thought to occur in the fall due to flea life cycles and the time period after which kittens (who are more likely to carry CSD because they are not yet immune to the bacteria) are adopted in the summer, January is when most cases occur.

The reason as to why this is could not be explained through the data, but Nelson and her colleagues think it could be due to people being indoors and around more cats during the winter, as well as the rise of kittens being given as pets during the holiday season.

While CSD is something every pet parent should be aware of, the CDC wants to remind cat lovers that it should not be a deterrent from having a feline in their lives, rather a reminder of why prevention and care is so important.

“Flea treatment for your cat can reduce the risk of harboring the bacteria,” Nelson says, adding that pet parents should take their cat to the veterinarian to get the best flea treatment suited for their pet.

While you can show your cat affection, be sure to play with them nicely to avoid any possible instances in which you could be scratched. When you do play with your cat, Nelson says, you should wash your hands, or any skin that may have a break in it, afterwards to wash the bacteria away.

Nelson says that outdoor cats, particularly those who hunt, may be more likely to be exposed to CSD because they are more exposed to other wild animals, so an indoor cat has a lower risk of harboring CSD. She also points out that a declawed cat could still carry the disease and while, theoritcally, they are less likely to transmit it to a person (though they still could through a bite), the CDC does not support declawing as a preventative measure.

“Pets mean a lot to people and to families and they have a lot of benefits,” Nelson said. “We don’t want people to get rid of their cats, just for them to take the simple measures to keep healthy.”


Laurelwood Animal Hospital,located near Jesuit High School on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway offers a full range of companion animal services, including surgery, nutrition and behavior counseling, parasite control and preventative medicine. The hospital also offers advanced imaging through an all-digital spiral CT scanner, a comprehensive dental program and laser treatment.

If you’re looking for quality, compassionate veterinary care in Beaverton, Oregon, come visit us at Laurelwood Animal Hospital.

Laurelwood Animal Hospital

9315 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway
Beaverton, Oregon 97005

Phone: (971) 244-4230
Fax: (503) 292-6808

E-mail: [email protected]