Cat Scratch Disease and Your Eyes


Cat scratch disease (CSD), commonly called cat scratch fever, can cause several symptoms and may affect your eyes. CSD is a condition that sometimes develops after being scratched or bitten by a cat. The disease occurs most commonly in young children after being in close contact with a cat. Although not common, CSD can lead to serious conditions of the eye.

How Cat Scratch Disease Affects Your Eyes

Although they are not common, the following eye conditions may develop for some people with CSD.

  • Parinaud’s oculoglandular syndrome: People with CSD sometimes develop Parinaud’s oculoglandular syndrome, which causes conjunctivitis and small nodules inside the eyelids or on the whites of the eyes. Fever and swollen lymph nodes may also occur.
  • Neuroretinitis: CSD sometimes causes neuroretinitis, or inflammation of the retina. Occasionally, people with CSD-induced neuroretinitis also develop a condition known as anterior uveitis (inflammation of the eye's uvea, the center section of the eye that includes the iris). Upon dilating the eye, your physician can see fluid leakage developing in a star-shaped pattern along with a swollen optic nerve. Neuroretinitis can also cause change in or loss of vision.

Symptoms of Cat Scratch Disease

Symptoms of CSD may not appear for weeks after initial exposure, as the incubation period is from several days to several weeks. Swollen lymph nodes usually develop, along with a small skin lesion or blister at the location of the cat scratch or bite. The lesion, which sometimes resembles a bug bite, is often the first noticeable symptom of CSD.

Other symptoms that may develop include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Lymph node swelling near the scratch or bite
  • Overall discomfort (malaise)
  • Draining lymph nodes
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sore throat
  • Weight loss

Causes of Cat Scratch Disease

CSD is caused by the bartonella bacteria. Most infected cats show no signs of illness, and kittens under 1 year of age are more likely to be infected. Roughly half of all cats are infected. The bacteria is transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected cat. The bacteria can also be transmitted by cat saliva through broken skin or through the eyes. It is thought that cats obtain the bacteria by infected fleas, although infected fleas do not transmit the disease directly to humans.

Treatment of Cat Scratch Disease

Your doctor can diagnosis CSD by a laboratory enzyme test. In otherwise healthy individuals, CSD usually goes away on its own within a couple of weeks without medical treatment. However, more severe conditions may develop—such as Parinaud’s oculoglandular syndrome, neuroretinitis or systemic organ disease—that require treatment with oral antibiotics.

If you develop symptoms of CSD after close contact with a cat, see your doctor.

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Article Sources
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  2. Klotz SA, Ianas V, Elliott SP. Cat-scratch disease. Am Fam Physician. 2011 Jan 15;83(2):152-155.

  3. Allizond V, Costa C, Sidoti F, et al. Serological and molecular detection of Bartonella henselae in specimens from patients with suspected cat scratch disease in Italy: A comparative study. PLoS ONE. 2019;14(2):e0211945. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0211945

Additional Reading
  • Sowka, Joseph W, Andrew S Gurwood and Alan G. Kabat. The Handbook of Ocular Disease Management, Supplement to Review of Optometry. April 15, 2010.