Cat Scratch Fever in Babies

Baby crawling on stomach next to two cats
Stephanie Deissner/F1online/Getty Images

If your cat scratches your baby, it could lead to infection. The reason: Cats (mostly kittens) can transmit cat scratch fever, or cat scratch disease, a bacterial infection caused by Bartonella henselae. 

The disease is spread through contact with an infected cat (a bite or scratch). It can be spread by a bite or scratch or from contact with cat saliva on broken skin or mucosal surfaces like the nose, mouth, and eyes, according to the National Institutes of Health.

How to Prevent Cat Scratch Fever

Your best bet is to keep your cat (especially if it's a kitten) away from your infant. Or, at the very least, curb any vigorous play between the animal and baby.

It's never too early to teach kids not to tease or provoke pets, especially when the animals are eating or sleeping. Flea control is also important because this appears to be how cats pass the bacteria to each other (though not to humans).

What to Do If Your Baby Gets Scratched

  • Clean the cat scratch or bite immediately with soap and water.
  • Apply pressure to the wounded area until the bleeding stops.
  • Use a clean bandage or towel and, if possible, use latex-free gloves to protect yourself and to prevent the wound from getting infected.
  • Dry the wound and cover it with sterile gauze or a clean cloth.
  • Call your pediatrician, especially if the cat scratch punctured the skin, and set up an appointment for the wound to be evaluated and treated properly.


Generally, after a scratch or bite from a cat, some pimples will form around the wound as it heals. These can last up to one month. If you suspect your child may have cat scratch disease, contact your healthcare provider immediately. Keep an eye out for the following warning signs:

  • Bump (papule) or blister (pustule) at the site of scratch or bite
  • Fatigue
  • Fever 
  • Headaches
  • Lymph node swelling near the site of the scratch or bite
  • Overall discomfort 

Less common symptoms may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Sore throat
  • Weight loss

Even a slight scratch on your little one's soft, sensitive skin can cause feelings of panic for new parents, but keep in mind that cat scratch fever is not a serious disease.

A physical exam followed by a simple blood test, called The Bartonella henselae IFA blood test, is often enough to diagnose the infection. And most children with a healthy immune system recover from the disease fully on their own; however, treatment can sometimes include a course of antibiotics such as azithromycin, clarithromycin, rifampin, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole or ciprofloxacin.

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  • National Institutes of Health