Loading icon
Press enter or spacebar to select a desired language.
Health Information Center

Cat Scratch Fever

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Cat Scratch Fever

(Cat Scratch Disease)


Cat scratch fever is a bacterial infection. It can start after a scratch or bite from a cat, kitten, or rarely a dog. It can become serious without treatment.


Cat scratch fever is caused by bacteria found in fleas. The bacteria are passed to cats through flea bites and flea dirt getting into wounds. Cats pick up the infected dirt as they bite and scratch at the fleas. The bacteria passes to humans through a bite or scratch that breaks the skin.

Risk Factors

Cat scratch fever is most common in children and adolescents. It is also more common in the southern part of the United States. The main risk is being bitten or scratched by a cat or kitten.


Symptoms of cat scratch fever may be:

  • A crusting sore or blister at the bite or scratch site
  • Swollen, painful lymph nodes
  • Flu-like symptoms such as:
    • Fever and chills
    • Feeling tired and weak
    • Body aches and headaches
    • A sore throat
  • Nausea, lack of hunger, and weight loss
  • Eye redness
Swollen Lymph Nodes.

http://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=25222522si2108.jpgSwollen Lymph NodesNULLjpgSwollen Lymph NodesNULL\\filer01\Intellect\images\si2108.jpgCopyright © 2002 Nucleus Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.21NULL2002-10-012553912522_99691Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Rarely, people develop serious infections of the:


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. You will be asked about any recent bites or scratches. A physical exam will be done. Blood tests will be done to look for signs of infection. If symptoms are unusual or severe, other tests may be done.


Cat-scratch fever will often pass on its own without treatment. People with more severe symptoms will need treatment. Options may be:

  • Over the counter pain relievers—to ease discomfort
  • Antibiotics—to treat infection
  • Lymph node drainage—to drain very swollen or painful nodes using a needle


To lower the risk of cat scratch fever:

  • Keep pets free of fleas.
  • Take steps to avoid scratches or bites from cats or kittens.




  • Bartonella henselae (cat-scratch disease). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/bartonella-henselae-cat-scratch-disease.
  • Cat-scratch disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases/cat-scratch.html.
  • Mabra D, Yeh S, et al. Ocular manifestations of bartonellosis. Curr Opin Ophthalmol. 2018;29(6):582-587.


  • David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.