Cat Scratch Fever -  Bartonellosis in Cats

Cat Scratch Fever - Bartonellosis in Cats

Bartonellosis is more commonly known as “cat scratch fever,” and is a condition that both cats and people can contract. It is caused by a bacterial infection that can be passed from cat to cat, and even from cat to owner. It is known as cat scratch fever, as one of the transmission routes of the condition and the one most likely to transmit the condition to people, is via the scratch of an affected cat.

While the condition is relatively rare, it is certainly one that the cat owner should make themselves aware of, in order to recognise the condition and take steps to prevent it.

Read on to learn more about Bartonellosis in cats and people.

How do cats catch Bartonellosis?

In cats, Bartonellosis is usually contracted via contact with the faeces of fleas, which can carry the bacterium that causes the condition. Fleas leave the bacteria on the skin of the cat, which the cat consequently ingests through grooming. Humans cannot contract the condition from flea faeces alone.

The condition can also be passed to both other cats and people by means of a scratch from an affected cat, and in some rare cases, through the bite of a tick. Saliva from the affected cat can also carry the condition, and be passed on through a graze or other open wound.

What are the symptoms of cat scratch fever?

While symptoms of the condition usually become apparent within 7-14 days after infection, it can take several weeks for the symptoms to become apparent.

Symptoms in the cat can include:

  • A heavy infestation of fleas or ticks
  • Fever or swollen glands
  • Lethargy, loss of appetite and general depression
  • In many cases, the condition will not show any symptoms at all

Symptoms of the condition in people can include:

  • Lymph node swelling near to the site of a cat scratch or bite
  • Fever or chills
  • General sickness and feeling unwell
  • Muscle pain
  • Sickness and stomach cramps
  • Fatigue and generalised tiredness
  • Swelling and infection around the localised site of a scratch or bite
  • Lumps or papules developing around the site of a bite or scratch

The condition in itself is not fatal and generally not hugely dangerous to people, but it can lead to complications and be potentially serious in those with a compromised immune system.

Diagnosing the condition

Cat scratch fever in both people and cats is usually not a serious or long-term condition, and it usually resolves itself within a few days of developing, and before veterinary treatment is sought. However, the condition can be diagnosed, and visiting the vet (or doctor) is recommended if the condition appears to be particularly severe, protracted, or causes complications.

Diagnosis is usually made by taking a clinical history, particularly pertaining to any bites or scratches. Blood panels and urinalysis may be taken for the cat, but these often prove inconclusive.

When a correct diagnosis is essential, your vet or doctor may take a blood sample and attempt to culture the bacteria, to prove once and for all its presence or absence from the bloodstream. Your vet may also test your cat’s enzymes for an immune response to the bacteria itself, but again, this can sometimes prove inconclusive.


Generally, treatment of cat scratch fever for humans involves thorough cleaning and disinfecting of the affected site, and if the nodules present are swollen and pussy, aspirating the nodules to remove the pus and promote healing. Bed rest is often recommended to allow the body the best chance of healing, and in some cases, antimicrobial therapy or antibiotics may be prescribed too.

In cats, the condition usually resolves itself quickly, and often, the owner is not even aware of the condition and the cat heals itself. If treatment is sought, thorough cleaning of any wound site, treatment for flea infestation if this is a problem, and possibly, antibiotics will also be used.


While it is not always possible to prevent every transmissible condition, there are steps that you can take to minimise the chances of either yourself or your cat developing Bartonellosis.

First of all, ensure that your cat is regularly treated for fleas, and do not allow them to develop a flea infestation. Using a flea treatment that is also effective on ticks will help to prevent tick transmission of the condition as well.

If you or your cat develop a scratch, bite or other break of the skin from another cat, clean and disinfect the area thoroughly, and be on the alert for the symptoms of the potential development of the condition. While cat scratch fever is usually a mild condition, remember that both in people and cats with a suppressed or compromised immune system it can prove dangerous, so take steps to keep yourself or your cat away from strange cats if this is the case.

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