Lesson Learned: Any bite or scratch can turn into a serious bacterial skin infection. Get it treated ASAP. 

Every time I mention cellulitis, I have to clarify, “Yes, I have cellulite on my thighs, but I’ve gotten cellulitis  from insect and cat bites.”

*giggle giggle

In all seriousness, cellulitis is NO JOKE. Anyone can get it, and if you don’t get antibiotics, it can spread to your bloody stream and then it’s adios muchachos.

Sources for this post are the Mayo Clinic and me because I just recovered from a serious case of cellulitis, and I’m going to tell you everything you need to know to protect yourself and your children, and to just be smart and safe.

What is cellulitis?

A bacterial skin infection.

How do you get it?

Bacteria enters through a crack in the skin, usually from cuts, wounds, ulcers, dermatitis, animal and insect scratches, and more.

What are the symptoms?

Redness, pain, cramping, swelling, around the cracked skin site that appears to be spreading. A fever occurs in extreme cases.

Left hand with cellulitis
This was while the bacteria was dying, but before my immune system came to the rescue to clear out the bad stuff.

Where do you get it?

It’s most common on limbs, but can occur anywhere.

What’s the treatment?

Tetanus shot and antibiotics.

Less severe cases: Usually treated with a week’s worth of oral antibiotics.

Severe cases: Hospital admission may be necessary because IV antibiotics are stronger than orals. After release, you’ll likely have a week of oral antibiotics.

Be patient and give the antibiotics time to work. The hospital is the best place for you. You maybe even see it get worst before it gets better. As the bacteria die, they release toxins, and your immune system rushes to clean out the toxins, causing the swelling, redness, and pain to spread before you start to improve.

Left hand with cellulitis
My hand swelled before it got better. The bacteria were dying and my immune system flooded my hand and arm with forces to clear everything out.

Why is it serious?

Because it can spread fairly quickly from your skin to your blood. Then you become septic and … curtains. Not going for drama – just explaining the severity of it.

I’m writing about it because cat bites are frequent culprits. Why?

Simply, cats’ mouths are dirty (think about it – they clean their buttholes with their tongues!), and they have very pointy fangs. Even if you clean a bite or nip with alcohol, infection is still possible. Why? Cat fangs are so pointy, that the alcohol isn’t likely getting to the bottom of the incision.

So, Liz, what do I do?

Just be aware and clean bites and scratches as soon as possible and monitor them for the symptoms I mentioned above. Call your doctor or just bypass and go right to the ER if you notice it seemingly “spreading.” Time is important.

If you see ANY streaking … red or black streaks … go to the ER. That usually means it’s in your bloodstream.

Remember: You can get cellulitis from ANYTHING, not just cats.

But cats are frequent suspects, so I just want to make any cat owner or lover aware.

I’ve had cellulitis 3x in the past 13ish years.

1st Culprit: Green-headed Jersey Shore Fly

Greenhead Fly
These green-headed monsters love to bite beach goers at the Jersey Shore.

Location: Right calf

What happened: If you live in the Philly/Jersey area, you know these suckers are BRUTAL at times. They just keep biting without a care in the world. Bite started as a mosquito-bite size on the back of my calf. It got really hot as the hours past. I went to bed, and woke up to find the entire back of my calf red and swollen. I could barely walk.

Treatment: My family doctor saw me immediately and prescribed oral antibiotics. It started clearing up the same day.

2nd Culprit: Foster Coco Chanel’s Fang

Black and white female kitten
Coco Chanel chills on my chest.

Location: Thumb (I forget which one)

What happened: I offered Chanel a cat treat of vacuumed sealed tuna. She smelled it and bit it, and her fang went right into my thumb. Why did this happen? Chanel was nervous, shy, and not properly socialized. These types of cats don’t know to be gentle when taking a treat from a person. It seemed okay, but that evening, I started getting cramping in my hand.

Treatment: Went to the ER because it was after 10PM and I knew I shouldn’t wait. I had one round of IV antibiotics, went home with oral antibiotics, and was fine the next day.

3rd Culprit: Lucy

Black and white female cat sitting on bathroom floor.
Lucy is guilty of giving my 3rd, and worst, case of cellulitis.

Location: Back of left hand, between 3rd and 4th knuckle.

What happened: I was sleeping next to my resident cat, Vito, and Lucy jumped onto the bed to wake me up. Startled to see Vito (because other cats trigger a fight or flight response for her), she started growling. While, half asleep, I tried to pet her to calm her down, and she nipped me very hard with her fang. I doused it with alcohol, but within a few hours, it was hot, painful, the redness was spreading, and I could barely use my hand.

The location (back of hand) made this occurrence particularly bad. There are a lot of ligaments on the back of the hand, and the hand surgeon told me bites in that location almost always get cellulitis.

Treatment: Went to doctor, was sent to ER, then admitted for three days of IV antibiotics, followed by eight days of oral antibiotics. Took my hand over a week to heal.

Do I blame the cats? No. (Kinda blame the fly though.)

Look, I got it from a fly. Alyssa, Lucy’s vet tech for acupuncture, got it from a horse kick through multiple layers of clothing. Another person messaged me on FB that she got it from a knife (she cut her hand while cutting a bagel). Bottom line is, yes, it is a risk when you are dealing with living things, but it can happen from ANY break in the skin.

Bottom line: Be smart, stay safe

It’s treatable, as long as you get help early on. Trust me, it doesn’t feel like a normal scratch or bite – it is much more painful, the heat is off the charts, and you can see it spreading. If you think you have it, it’s better to go to the doctor and have them tell you you’re paranoid than to risk it.

Also, if you choose to live or work with animals, you know there’s a risk of injury. Accept the risk, and just act appropriately if you’re injured. You’ll be fine.

Brown tabby hugging person's arm
Vito always knows what hurts. Here, he’s hugging my arm after I got home from the hospital.
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