(NaturalNews) Getting bit by any domesticated animal is not something that most people want, but a new study has found that cat bites are far worse than dog bites.
That said, the American Humane Society reports that about 4.7 million dog bites occur in the U.S. each year. Fairly common.
What are far less common are cat bites, and admittedly, you don't really hear much about them. Yet, according to scientists at the Mayo Clinic, they can be extremely dangerous.
As noted by consumer reporter Mark Huffman over at Consumer Affairs:
Their jaws may be tiny compared to a dog's but their tiny teeth can do real damage, injecting bacteria deep into joints and tissue, perfect breeding grounds for infection.
One indication of the danger is the required treatment. A Mayo Clinic study covering three years shows that one in three patients treated for a cat bite had to be admitted to a hospital. Of those requiring a hospital stay, two-thirds needed surgery.
The study found that middle-aged women were the most common cat bite victims.
'Dogs' teeth are blunter
According to researchers, there is no more bacteria in a cat's mouth than what is found in a dog's mouth. But it's the fact that little kitty's little fangs are designed perfectly to inject bacteria deep into your tissue that makes all the difference.
"The dogs' teeth are blunter, so they don't tend to penetrate as deeply and they tend to leave a larger wound after they bite," said senior author Brian Carlsen, M.D., a Mayo Clinic plastic surgeon and orthopedic hand surgeon. "The cats' teeth are sharp and they can penetrate very deeply, they can seed bacteria in the joint and tendon sheaths."
What's more, the scientists point out, it really doesn't take a gaping wound to cause much damage. Just a small, pinprick of a bite, Carlsen notes, can lead to infection from bacteria being injected into a tendon sheath or into a joint where it can grow and flourish with relative protection from the blood and the human body's immune system.
In fact, bacteria from a cat bite can include a common animal bacteria strain that is hard to treat in humans, because it is difficult to fight off with antibiotics, Huffman wrote.
The study was published in the February issue of the Journal of Hand Surgery.
According to researchers, cat bites can often land the victim in the hospital. And when they do, such patients must often have wounds surgically cleaned and flushed out, as well as infected tissue removed -- a procedure that is called "debridement." In the Mayo Clinic study, eight of 193 patients required more than one operation; some even needed reconstructive surgery.
According to MinnPost, the clinic undertook the study to see if they could find any new risk factors that might help predict which patients who come in for treatment of a cat bite to the hand would eventually have to be admitted to the hospital.
Most of what the scientists found, however, only confirmed what they already knew -- that such bites are more likely to land a victim in the hospital when they occur over a joint or tendon and are subsequently accompanied by redness, pain and swelling. They said risks increase for people with immune-deficiency disorders, as you might imagine.
"The hand surgery community isn't so shocked by our paper, but I do think the public may be surprised," Carlsen told MinnPost.
"I have seen some really bad infections [from cat bites] that have required multiple operations," he added. "I had one patient, a farmer, whose tendons were destroyed on the back of his hand by the infection. He couldn't straighten his fingers out. We had to reconstruct the tendons."