Rabies from a Cat Scratch?

Updated on March 30, 2011
L.S. asks from Fremont, CA
12 answers

So last night a tom cat started yowling outside our bedroom window and our dog went nuts. This has been going on every few days for about a month. We are all sound asleep and then the dog goes nuts barking because the cat is in his yard. It is taking years off my life to go from sound asleep to yelping, angry dog and we are losing sleep too. So last night, I put dog on leash and went to chase away the cat, which I now know was very stupid. We turned a corner, surprised cat, surprised us. Result is a scratch for me and one for the dog. I mentioned this to a friend at work (because I have been around animals all my life and have never had this particular experience, and she kind of freaked me out and said I should call my doctor because the cat was aggressive and I should be very worried about rabies.) So if any of you know anything about this or have had this experience and could offer insight, that would be great. Should I be worried? I plan on calling the vet tomorrow and will see what he says, but I thought I would see if anyone here has some ideas. And yes, as I said, I know I did a stupid, dangerous thing that could have seriously hurt my dog. And no, I would not have let him hurt the cat; I just wanted the cat to go away and thought he might if he saw the dog. I really wanted to sleep!

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So What Happened?

Thanks so much for all the great comments. I really appreciate them. I called the vet and asked my questions. The tech on the phone started chuckling right when I mentioned my plan to go out with the dog while in my PJs...she basically knew exactly what happened at that point. Like many of you she said there is much more concern about bites rather than scratches.
I did clean both scratches well and all seems fine so far.
I will definitely try the cayenne pepper if the cat comes back and will absolutely NOT try to take on a angry tom cat again!

Featured Answers



answers from Boca Raton on

You can also get rabies if a rabid animal gets saliva into a wound (cut etc) on you (not just biting). Don't think you have much to worry about a scratch. Just call the vet...(they'd know) just in case.

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answers from Los Angeles on

You most definately CANNOT get rabies from a cat scratch! Rabies only gets transmitted if you get BIT by a carrier of rabies. Best thing to do when scratched is to wash it out with antibacterial soup and dry it off completely, which I'm sure you did. You will be fine.

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answers from Columbus on

That is a perfectly normal act of a cat surprised by a dog/human, and acting on the defensive.

Also, the rabies virus is spread though the bacteria in the mouth (in the saliva) of infected animals, not through scratches. So, if you weren't bitten, you're not at risk of rabies.

You are, however, at risk of getting infected with cat scratch fever, which is a bacterial infection due to the scratch (cats have lots of nasty bacteria under their claws--think about the fact that they use their paws to bury their poop.... Make sure the scratch is cleaned well and apply a disinfectant/neosporin, and see your doc right away if it appears infected.

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answers from Spokane on

I have never heard of anyone getting rabies from a scratch. I honestly think you have to be bitten, but I could be wrong. Just because the cat was aggressive doesn't mean it has rabies. If it's feral and on it's own, that can be quite common, especially if it was startled.

Your story reminded me of something that my grandmother did years ago. I hadn't met my husband yet, and I'm pretty sure my grandfather was still with us (I could be wrong on that point), so this was somewhere between 10 & 15 years ago. At that time, my grandparents had a whole passel of half feral cats that lived on their back porch. One evening, it was late, she heard some of the cats yowling and going nuts. She thought a dog was bugging them or something so she goes running out in her flip flops and a fly swatter. As soon as she gets into the driveway, the motion lights come on and she hears something crashing away in the brush and tree's bordering the back of the property (they lived out in the country). Of course, as she's coming in my mom is scolding her saying that it could have been a coyote or an aggressive dog and how she could have been hurt. She agrees with mom, we all got to bed and forget about it. Well, the next day a friend that lived a mile or so up the road called and told Grandma that a cougar had been spotted in the area, to keep an eye out for it and to expect a few cats to go missing before it wandered off or animal control took care of it. Of course, that scared Grandma, got her worrying so out she goes with her shotgun to check out the area and sure enough there were cougar prints out in the back area.

So yes, in times like that, even if you're exhausted or whatever, if you don't know exactly what's going on, just don't chance it! There could have been something else scratching you then a crazy cat!

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answers from San Francisco on

According to our vet, there hasn't been a known case of rabies in Santa Clara county in over 23 years, thouhg I know you're in Alameda Cty, which is right next door. If anything, the scratch may get infected if you don't clean it well and put medicinal salve on it.
Next time, turn the hose on the cat. You might also try sprinkling a full container of cayenne powder in the area where this cat likes to rest at night. Naval jelly, though messy, is a good deterent too. It gets on their paws, then in their mouth when they preen, however it won't hurt them. If it still continues to choose near your bedroom window, rent a trap from the SPCA and catch the animal. Many years ago we had trouble with a cat who did the same as your tom cat. It took 3 days to catch it after baiting the trap with sardines. Animal control took care of it after that.
Good luck

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answers from Houston on

I dont think you can get rabies, but you CAN get cat scratch fever....its not just a 70's song!!! I knew a man YEARS back that got cat scratch fever..it was pretty serious. I am thinking that if you do get CSF, it happens relatively quick....you are probably in the clear.

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answers from Louisville on

Rabies is transmitted through saliva, so unless you or the dog were bitten, you don't need to worry. Having said that, the situation you described does not sound like an animal with rabies. It just sounds like a startled, high strung cat who is used to defending himself when he's cornered/threatened/


answers from Kansas City on

I do know it's possible to get rabies from them even just licking us if they have rabies. The chances are pretty low as in tiny that the cat has rabies.

It's not just aggressive behavior. There are other symptoms that I don't think would last a long time. They observe dogs that bite for 10 days because the symptoms progress quickly and you said it's been happening for about a month.

Many years ago I confronted a cat that was looking for my in heat cat. He jumped up and clawed me in 2 places. Within a couple hours my arm was twice it's normal size and I was in the emergency room. So yeah, the cat is on the prowl and just probably mean.


answers from Los Angeles on

Cat Scratch Fever rarely happens. Like, Elena R said, if you washed and dried the scratch thoroughly you will be fine. Also, if the cut was deep you would of been more likely to get CSR. But I'm sure if it was deep you would of gone to the doctor and you didn't mention that. You are fine! For more piece of mind rub some alcohol on it and keep it clean. I've owned cats all my life, most of them were rescued off the street. You have nothing to worry about.



answers from San Francisco on

If the cat's out there yowling, it is probably a female in heat. I would borrow a cat trap from animal services and have her spayed. That should take care of the problem, and you will not end up with a bunch of kittens in the yard. She doesn't sound like a rabid cat to me, she sounds like a feral cat who was surprised. I would worry more about kittens than rabies, though I would sanitize the cuts and keep a close eye on them. Good luck!



answers from Charlotte on

L., I'd be more worried about cat scratch fever than rabies, especially if this same cat has been around for a while and does the same thing. They won't know if the cat has rabies unless you catch the cat and bring it to the vet so he can observe it for a length of time (10 days maybe?). OR... they remove its head in an autopsy and test for it.

If your doctor is concerned, he or she will tell you to get the rabies shot series. That's something you have to decide to do - if you don't, you probably won't survive rabies, because the survival rate is very low.

My SIL ended up having to go through the shot series because of a strange dog coming in her yard and fighting with her dog. She got some of her own dog's saliva on her and the doctor told her to do it. I don't envy your decision.

Good luck,



answers from Boston on

I don't think the cat was aggressive it seems like it's natural defense to being spooked by you guys. I honestly think you must be bitten but if you are concerned give your doctor a call and ask.

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