When Shari Sands picked up her purring cat Toby to put her in her lap, the cat leapt toward her face, hissed and delivered a bite to Sands’ jaw line, puncturing her skin just below the chin.
“She had never done that before,” said Sands. “Toby had become really close to my dog, Hootie, who recently passed from prostate cancer. She was extra cuddly and I was petting her a lot too, maybe that had something to do with it.”
The wound bled just a tiny bit, Sands said, and she applied pressure with a tissue. “It was a little sore, but not anymore than a scratch would be.”
As soon as Sands sat down again, the cat was right back in her lap purring contentedly.
Sands went about the rest of her day and evening feeling fine until 5:30 a.m. the next morning when she woke sore and a little swollen at the puncture site. A half-hour later, she was shaking and had chills. She knew she had an infection.
Sands waited at the door of the Immediate Care as it opened feeling sicker and sicker. When the nurse took her temperature an hour later it was 103 and the physician sent her to the Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center Emergency Department where they were waiting for her.
“I had tachycardia when I walked in; my heart was beating so fast, and I was really sick. I could hardly think,” Sands said. “The bacterial infection was in my bloodstream.”
Commonly found in the mouths of cats and dogs, a pathogenic bacterium known as pasteurella multocida caused a tissue infection. As the infection spread via blood to other areas of Shari’s body, it caused a condition called septicemia (or blood poisoning.)
Medical personnel immediately hooked Sands to monitors, IVs for antibiotics and took cultures. Later that day and the next, Sand’s throat swelled to above her chest from the infection.
“Once my neck swelling started going down and they had my allergy medication figured out, I could swallow and breathe easier,” said Sands, “and I started feeling a little bit better every day.”
“My hospitalist, Dr. Stephanie Vasko, internal medicine, was great. She had consults with infectious disease and ear, nose, throat doctors, and had a CT scan done to make sure I didn’t have any abscesses.”
After four nights, Sands went home, amazed at how something as simple as a minor bite could turn into such an ordeal.
“My cat is such a lover, but I am a little paranoid now. I’m just very happy I made it to the ED when I did.”
First Aid Tips: If you get bit by a cat, it’s important to wash your hands first, and then your wound, with soap and water. Apply pressure with a clean tissue, towel or bandage. Apply an antibiotic ointment and cover with a sterile bandage. If the puncture starts to swell, apply an ice pack. Call your doctor or visit an urgent care clinic. It is important to be examined for risk of infection. Depending on the amount of bleeding, if the puncture is on your face or scalp, if the cat has been vaccinated, or depth of the puncture, you may need to call 911 if your symptoms require immediate treatment.