Cats are adorable. For those of us lucky enough to have been owned by a cat, we know that the very definition of love is a cat purring softly and kneading us with its claws properly sheathed. Alas, sometimes circumstances happen that these claws become the cause of a scratching injury, whether done deliberately or not. I recently got scratched just under my eye because I was lying down while Bella and Orange were chasing each other, and ignoring road signs, ran right over my face with one little claw catching me. Two lessons learned: (1) Never postpone nail trimming for solely indoor cats and (2) Never lie down when two rambunctious kittens are on the loose!
Cat scratch is painful. Even more so in the eye! Regardless of whether you got scratched in or near the eye, the first thing to do is the rinse the site of injury with clean water. This is done to physically flush away the debris and bacteria that may contaminate the wound. If the cat’s claw caught you in the eye itself, either pour the water into the open eye or fill a basin with water and plunge your head in with your eyes open, careful not to breathe water into your nose. If you happen to have contact lenses on, remove them first before rinsing your eye with water.
At this point, it is very important to remember that if the culprit of this scratching incident is a stray cat then a prompt visit to the physician is absolutely necessary as a Rabies vaccination for the scratching victim may be in order.
If the scratch is only on the outside of the eye, after rinsing with water you may apply an antiseptic solution being careful not to get the solution in the eye. You can also apply a cold pack to minimize the pain and swelling. An over-the-counter antibacterial ointment may also be applied on the wound but be careful that you know whether or not you have allergies to any of its components. Otherwise, a visit to the doctor should be necessary.
If the scratch is on the eye itself then there is the likelihood of an abrasion on the cornea, that transparent outermost layer of the eye. If possible, get to a doctor immediately. The doctor can perform certain tests on your eye to check how deep the scratch is. The doctor can also prescribe you medicine to fight off bacteria and fungi that may infect the eye wound and medicine that will help minimize the incidence of scarring in the cornea which may impair vision. If an immediate visit to the doctor is not possible for one reason or another and the scratch on the eye looks minor, then at least observe proper home care of the injured eye. After rinsing with water, it is best to have the eye rested by keeping the eyelids close. You may apply a cold pack over closed eyelids for pain relief but do not place too much pressure on the eyeball. Resist the urge to rub the affected eye as this may make the condition worse. Do not touch the eye with anything and if you use contact lenses keep them off in the meantime. Most minor injuries will heal on their own in a few days but go see a doctor immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms that do not go away within twenty four hours: persistent, increasing, or severe pain, blurring or loss of vision, persistent redness and hypersensitivity to light.
As for the little one guilty of the scratching, if a pet cat, keep under observation for the mandatory 14 days observation period. If any abnormal signs develop like fever, loss of appetite, lethargy bring to your veterinarian immediately for evaluation for any zoonotic (diseases that can be transmitted from animals to people) conditions.
But why do cats scratch people? What makes these cute fluffballs suddenly turn homicidal? The more common causes of scratching incidents involving cats are: rough play, surprise, pain, aggression, giving oral medicines, getting cat into pet carrier. Some of these situations can be avoided altogether. For those that cannot be avoided, try to keep the cat as calm as possible. I always emphasize on training cats while they are still kittens to enter the pet carrier and to take oral medicines through a positive reinforcement reward system. This will prove invaluable when they grow up. Make it clear to a kitten that rough play is not acceptable. Keep the nails of indoor cats trimmed always. To minimize risk of disease transmission, keep all of your cat’s vaccinations up to date and follow religiously the flea prevention and control program recommended by your veterinarian. Eliminating fleas lessens the chances of your cat getting a bacterial infection called Cat Scratch Disease which is transferrable to humans. Monitor all contact between cats and young children. Teach children how to properly pet a cat and understand that cats, unlike dogs, allow petting only on some areas of their bodies. Cats loved to be petted at the base of the chin, at the base of the ears, on the cheeks behind the whiskers. Some cats who have been used to it since kitten hood allow their bellies to be rubbed but a majority of cats will get immediately defensive, lash out and scratch you with lightning speed if you try to rub their bellies. Be aware also of the cues from your cat’s body language. I have known some people who got scratched because they mistakenly thought that the side to side movement of their cat’s tail indicated a happy, relaxed state akin to tail wagging in dogs. And always be careful in approaching stray and feral cats.
Being aware of these things mentioned above will lessen the chances of your getting scratched by your cat in the eye or elsewhere in the body. Sadly, not a few cats have been inhumanely declawed, surrendered to shelters or left abandoned in the streets because of scratching incidences that are not entirely the cat’s fault. The goal is to achieve that balance wherein the benefits of living with cats is maximized and risk of injury is minimized.