Table 1

Important infections caused by bites, scratches and licks from dogs and cats

DiseaseAetiologyTransmissionIncidenceSeverityPresentation
RabiesLyssavirus spp. in salivaDog bites in developing world, bat bites in developed world. Rarely catsExtremely rare in developed worldNear 100% mortality1–3-month incubation period followed by flu-like illness, hyperactivity, hydrophobia and reduced consciousness
Capnocytophaga sepsisC. canimorsus in salivaDogs >cats salivaRareSevere; 30% mortalityFulminant sepsis. Occasionally meningitis and endocarditis. Rarely wound infection
Gram-positive/anaerobic infectionVarious, including staph species, strep species and anaerobesContamination of wound by skin floraUncommonVariableFrequently self-limiting localised cellulitis, occasionally systemic sepsis, ie, MRSA, anaerobic sepsis in the immunocompromised
PasteurellosisPasteurella spp. in salivaDog or cat bites, scratches or licks, often occultCommon: most frequent isolate from bitesMild to moderateRapid-onset cellulitis, septic arthritis proximal to wound, osteomyelitis, occasionally pneumonia and severe sepsis
BrucellosisBrucella spp (B. canis from dog saliva)Exposure to body fluids from domestic animals (especially farm settings), consumption of unpasteurised dairy productsRare in developed world, most common zoonosis worldwideMild1–4-week incubation; broad range of symptoms ranging from asymptomatic to fever, arthralgia and severe sepsis
Cat scratch diseaseBartonella henselae in salivaCat bites, scratches and licks. Occasionally flea bitesCommon, especially in children and young adultsMildInoculation site lesion followed by regional lymphadenopathy; occasionally disseminated disease
  • MRSA, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus; Staph, staphylococcus; Strep, streptococcus.