How To Stop Cat Scratches From Itching

Cats are beloved pets, but their sharp claws can unintentionally cause scratches. While minor scratches usually heal quickly, they can sometimes itch intensely. This uncomfortable itching is caused by substances in cat saliva that trigger minor inflammation and irritation. Thankfully, there are steps cat owners can take to soothe itchy cat scratches and help them heal faster.

Why Do Cat Scratches Itch?

Cat scratches often itch due to a bacterial infection caused by Bartonella henselae, which is found in cat saliva and under their claws. Approximately 30% of cats carry this bacteria in their bloodstream (CDC). When a cat scratches or bites, their claws or teeth can transmit the bacteria into the wound, leading to an infection known as cat scratch disease or cat scratch fever.

Cat scratch disease is the main cause of itchy cat scratches. The infection triggers immune and inflammatory responses at the site of the scratch as your body fights against the bacteria. This leads to redness, swelling, and itching around the wound (Johns Hopkins Medicine). The itching sensation associated with the infection can persist until the bacteria is cleared from the body, which may take a few weeks or months.

Kittens are more likely to transmit B. henselae than adult cats, since kittens are more apt to carry high levels of the bacteria. Stray and feral cats also pose a higher risk of transmitting the infection through scratches (CDC).

Clean the Wound

It’s important to properly clean any cat scratch right away to help prevent infection. The CDC recommends washing cat scratches well with soap and running water.[1] Use mild soap and gently wash the scratch under running water for at least 5 minutes. This helps remove dirt, bacteria, and any other contaminants that may have entered the wound from the cat’s nails.

After washing thoroughly, pat the area dry with a clean towel. Apply an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin to the scratch. Antibiotic ointments create a barrier to keep germs out and help prevent infection.[2] Cover with a sterile bandage or dressing. Keeping it covered protects the wound while it starts healing. Change the bandage daily and reapply antibiotic ointment each time.

Apply a Cold Compress

Applying a cold compress or ice pack to the scratch can help reduce inflammation and itching. The cold temperature constricts blood vessels, reducing blood flow and swelling in the area (source). It also provides a numbing effect that temporarily relieves itchiness. Place an ice pack or cold compress on the scratch for 10-20 minutes several times per day. Make sure to wrap the ice pack in a towel before applying to prevent skin damage. The cold temperature will reduce inflammation, swelling, and irritation, helping calm the itch.

Take Antihistamines

Antihistamines block the production of histamine to help reduce itching from cat scratches. Histamine is a chemical released by the immune system that causes inflammation and itching. Common over-the-counter antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), and loratadine (Claritin) can provide relief when taken as directed.

According to WebMD, pet-friendly antihistamines like chlorpheniramine are often prescribed by veterinarians for pets with frequent allergy symptoms. These medications can also help humans dealing with bothersome cat scratch itching.

Use Hydrocortisone Cream

Hydrocortisone cream can help relieve itching and inflammation from cat scratches. It contains a low-potency steroid that helps reduce redness, swelling, and irritation. According to PetMD, hydrocortisone works by suppressing the body’s immune response that causes inflammation and itching.

When applying hydrocortisone cream, first clean the wound with mild soap and water. Gently pat dry the area and apply a thin layer of hydrocortisone cream directly on the scratch 1-2 times per day. Use only an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream designed for pets, as human products may contain ingredients unsafe for cats. Do not use hydrocortisone for more than 7 days unless directed by your veterinarian, as extended use can cause side effects.

Studies show hydrocortisone is generally safe for cats when used as directed. According to VCA Hospitals, potential side effects include skin irritation, hair loss, or discoloration at the application site. Discontinue use if irritation develops.

While hydrocortisone can relieve itchiness from cat scratches, see your veterinarian if the scratch appears red, swollen or infected. Deep scratches or bites may require antibiotic treatment.

Apply Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is a natural remedy that can help soothe itchy cat scratches. The gel from the aloe plant contains properties that are anti-inflammatory, moisturizing, and promote skin regeneration ( Applying aloe vera gel directly to the scratched area can provide cooling relief while also helping to heal the skin.

Make sure to use pure aloe gel that is safe for use on pets. Gently rub the gel into the scratch and let it fully absorb. Aloe vera can reduce inflammation that causes itching while also acting as a protective barrier for the damaged skin. Due to its high regenerative properties, regularly applying aloe vera to scratches can accelerate the healing process (

Aloe vera provides a soothing, natural treatment that can diminish itchiness and promote faster recovery from cat scratches. Just be sure not to let your cat lick the area after applying.

Watch for Infection

Cat scratches can sometimes lead to infection, especially if they are deep or puncture wounds. Signs of infection include:

  • Increased pain, swelling, redness, or warmth around the scratch
  • Pus or cloudy discharge from the wound
  • Red streaks extending from the scratch
  • Swollen lymph nodes near the scratch
  • Fever or chills

According to the CDC, about 12,000 people are hospitalized due to cat scratch disease each year in the United States [1]. Cat scratch disease is caused by a bacterium called Bartonella henselae that can be transmitted in a cat’s saliva. If you experience any signs of infection, it is important to see your doctor right away. Your doctor can examine the wound, test for infection, and prescribe antibiotics if needed.

Some people may need IV antibiotics or surgery if the infection is severe. Treating cat scratches early can help prevent the infection from becoming dangerous. Contact your doctor promptly at the first signs of infection.


Prevent Future Scratches

There are several ways to prevent your cat from scratching you in the future:

  • Keep your cat’s nails trimmed – By regularly trimming your cat’s nails, you can blunt the sharp points and reduce scratch damage. Use trimmers designed specifically for cats and trim just the sharp tip of the nail, being careful not to cut too close to the quick.

  • Provide appropriate scratching surfaces – Make sure your cat has access to scratching posts, cardboard scratchers, cat trees, etc. Place these scratching surfaces near furniture that your cat tries to scratch. Reward your cat for using the approved scratching surfaces. [1]

  • Use distraction techniques – When your cat starts scratching furniture or you, immediately distract them with a toy or treat. Redirecting their scratching impulse onto an approved surface. Over time they will learn what they can and cannot scratch. [2]

With some effort, you can train your cat to scratch only appropriate objects, saving your belongings and your skin!

When to Seek Medical Care

In most cases, minor cat scratches heal on their own with basic first aid and do not require medical attention. However, according to, you should see a doctor if:

  • The scratch or bite is deep and gaping.
  • There are signs of infection, including increased pain, swelling, redness, warmth, red streaks, pus, or foul-smelling discharge from the wound.
  • You develop a fever or flu-like symptoms.
  • The wound is not healing or continues to worsen over several days.
  • You have a weakened immune system.
  • The scratch is on your face, hand, or near a joint or bone.

According to, you should also see a doctor if you develop swollen lymph nodes, headache, fatigue, or eye issues, as these may be signs of cat scratch disease/cat scratch fever.

Seek prompt medical treatment if the cat was unknown, stray, feral, or potentially infectious. Bites that break the skin should always be evaluated by a healthcare professional.

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