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When Cats Attack!

By Kim Everson, DVM

Admitting to a struggle with a bit of writer’s block on Facebook, I received several immediate and interesting questions and suggestions. Yet I can’t get the following image out of my head and feel I should find a way to make it work.

The other day my toddler son–enamored of our cats as most toddlers are–grasped Cheeks by the armpits, hoisted her up and buried his face in her soft belly fur. Usually a very tolerant feline, Cheeks sort of freaked out at this! She wrapped her limbs around my son’s head and held on for dear life as he blindly stumbled about in a panic. We rescued the cat from the boy (and vice versa), relieved to find not the slightest injury to either.

Cats being predatory and often aloof animals, it’s easy for me to joke that if we humans were smaller or if they were much bigger, our cat companions would probably pounce on us like mice and toy with us a while before enjoying us for a snack. I have been observed more than once by a pint-sized feline with a chillingly calculating stare.

Mountain Lion
Domestic Short Hair

Some cats actually do lie in wait for their humans, leaping at unsuspecting legs, biting and clawing without provocation. Fortunately, this sort of excessive “play” behavior is the exception to the rule. Many more cats, like Cheeks, tolerate innumerable indignities without complaint (think kitties wearing bonnets being carted around in baby buggies). I have been absolutely shocked by the restraint demonstrated by some cats in situations that would make a less conscientious feline tear a person to shreds. Years ago during a bath, my cat Abe locked his front paws (with piercing claws out) around my arm in an effort to stop me and yowled in protest. Amazingly, he did not make a scratch!

When cats do lose control of their weapons–either in play or fury–the results to people can be disasterous. Cat Scratch Fever ain’t just a kickin’ Nugent tune. More than one veterinary professional has wound up in a hospital bed on IV antibiotics after a decent cat bite or scratch. It’s like a game of Russion roulette. I’ve been bitten repeatedly–once so hard it bruised my thumbnail for months–and although each bite hurt like heck the wound healed without intervention beyond an initial thorough scrubbing. But I remain vigilent for myself, my kids and my clients because a simple little scratch can send you to the ER.

Cats biting cats can produce nasty cat bite abscesses, too. I know it’s gross (it’s a vet thing), but there is nothing more satisfying than draining an explosive, stinky cat bite abscess. With the pressure relieved, the cat feels better and the wound generally responds well to a short course of oral antibiotics. This type of injury is typically seen in unneutered outdoor male cats, but I’ve seen plenty of indoor female cats suddenly sicken from an abscess produced by a housemate’s wrath.

The moral of this story is to wash thoroughly even an innocent scratch or nip and be grateful for your cat’s unusual restraint during times of insult and injury!

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