When treating superficial scratches, it’s reasonable to wash the wound with soap and water. If the wound is bleeding, apply pressure with a clean, dry gauze pad. If the bleeding doesn’t stop despite holding pressure, then medical attention should be sought.
Wounds to the hands and feet can be more prone to infection, Levy warns, and scratches to the face or other areas of the body can cause cosmetic damage in the form of scarring. A scratch to the eye needs immediate care. The risk for infection is higher for people with weakened or compromised immune systems.
An over-the-counter antibiotic cream can be applied and the wound covered with a dry, sterile dressing until it heals. It’s crucial to keep an eye on the progression of the wound, he adds, and watch out for warning signs that it’s time to call your doctor.
Signs of an infected wound include changes around the wound site, increased redness, warmth, swelling, tenderness, pain with movement, or pus drainage. Signs of a generalized body infection include fever, chills, body aches, fatigue, and swollen glands. Swollen glands (lymph nodes) that develop within a week involving an area of the body that was scratched can be an indication of a bacterial infection.
If an unknown or feral cat scratches you, use the same first aid treatment, but also enlist the help of animal control or your local health department. Depending on the severity of the scratch and whether it was accompanied by a bite, the animal may need to be identified and quarantined or tested for signs of disease, such as rabies. If the animal can’t be captured, your treating physician might recommend a round of rabies prophylaxis (antibody and vaccine injections) as a preventative measure. If you haven’t had a tetanus update in more than 10 years, your doctor might also opt give you a booster shot.