They’re cute, they’re cuddly, and — they’re deadly? That’s right, your furry feline friend might look like they’re inviting you in for a belly rub, but it’s a trap. And before you know it, their vampire-like fangs and sharp claws could send you to the hospital.

A small cat bite in your arm today could lead to an amputation tomorrow. And if you don’t take it seriously, you might not be around to watch any more cute cat videos.

Although it’s the only domesticated species in its Felidae family, cats don’t lack the killer instinct. And even if your cat is not aggressive, sometimes during playtime it may get carried away.Because cats have long, thin, sharp teeth, more like Dracula’s fangs than our incisors, a cat’s bite will leave small, circular marks on a person’s skin. And cats’ mouths have types of bacteria that we don’t, so they cause infections. When a bite drives this bacteria into a person’s skin, the warm environment with low oxygen levels allows the bacteria to multiply and spread quickly.

So no matter how tight you are with the adorable “Mr.Snuggles” here, beware that the possibility of an attack is always present. How could a cat bite kill you? How many people get bitten by cats every year? And which diseases could you get from your cat?

According to the World Health Organization, in the United States, there are an estimated 400,000 cat bites and 66,000 visits to hospital emergency departments every year. A cat can attack for many reasons. It could be playing, defending its territory, redirecting its anger, or it may simply get exasperated by your constant petting. Whatever the case, a bad bite can become serious fast. So follow these tips to save yourself from a nasty infection, disfiguration or even death.

Step 1. Watch Their Ears

Knowing the warning signs could help prevent a cat from biting you in the first place: Watch for ears that are tilted back and pointing toward the tail, flat against the cat’s head. Listen to verbal cues like angry meowing, howling, hissing or a whine that sounds like a demon is about to be unleashed. And check for a tail that appears fuller and fluffier than normal, dilated pupils and an arched back.

Step 2. Wash the Wound

If a cat bites you, don’t shrug it off and ignore it. Even if your cat is clean and vaccinated, if there’s a puncture mark in your skin, get soap and hot water and, at the very least, wash it out thoroughly. Not cleaning the wound right away will leave bacteria from the bite deep in your skin, increasing the odds of a serious infection.

In 2012, in Oregon, Paul Gaylord was bitten by his cat when he tried to help his pet as it choked on a mouse. What he didn’t know was that the mouse was infected with the bubonic plague, the same disease that caused the Black Death centuries ago. Within a day, Paul was in the hospital. He went into a coma for 27 days due to the infection and ended up losing some fingers and toes, but survived to the plague.

Step 3. Get medical help

Go to your doctor or the nearest urgent care center for medical attention. It’s better to take action when the puncture is still fresh than to wait too long and risk needing surgery. If your cat bites you, you’ll know if it’s up-to-date on all its vaccinations and can give that information to the medics. But if you’re bitten by someone else’s cat, find out if the animal has received all its booster shots lately.

There are several common illnesses that cats can spread to humans, including cat scratch fever, a bacterial infection that can cause a blister and swelling in the lymph nodes near the wound, headaches, fever, sore muscles and joints, fatigue and lack of appetite. Pasteurella multocida is a bacterium found in more than 70% of cats’ mouths. Bites carrying this bacteria can cause pain, swelling and redness within two days and are usually treated successfully with an antibiotic. If the bacteria passes through your blood into your heart, it could infect your valves. And if your cat spends a significant amount of time outdoors or eats raw meats or wild birds, it could have salmonella.

Step 4. Beware of stray cats

If a stray cat bites you, wash the wound and go immediately to an emergency room. Provide all the information you can about the incident, including where you last saw the cat. You might need a series of painful rabies shots, but it’s better than foaming at the mouth as your brain starts to disintegrate from the inside out. Once you get rabies symptoms, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll die. And even if it isn’t rabies, and the infection isn’t that bad or none is present, you might need to take antibiotics. Some cat bite issues can take up to 10 days to appear.

Step 5. Don’t punish your cat

Yes, you’re feeling surprised, angry and in pain. But remember, cats are animals. It didn’t attack you personally because it doesn’t like you. Maybe it felt overstimulated, fearful or threatened. You’re much bigger than a cat, and you could easily injure a cat if you attack it.

Just like any other pet, good training from day one is essential for cats. Avoid playing roughly with your hands or feet, and use toys to satisfy a cat’s hunting nature. And be aware that too much petting and snuggling can lead to an attack. If these little cat bites are so dangerous, could you imagine what a bite from one of these big cats could do to you?

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