Catfish sting

Fact Checked

Catfish can be easily identified by their whiskers which project from the region around the mouth. Cat fish are not fierce and aggressive fish. People are less likely to get stung by a catfish unless they disturb them while fishing or swimming in the water and thus, making contact with them. People who usually step on a catfish get stung by one. It is important to note that freshwater catfish as well as salt water catfish are very dangerous as they have 3 spines and the physical structure to sting a person.

Disclaimer: The material posted on this page is for information purposes only. To learn more about poisons and how to manage victims of poisons enrol in workplace approved first aid training.

Where are catfish found?

Catfish are usually found in muddy waters such as lakes and rivers and beaches in temperate, sub-tropical or tropical waters.catfish

Symptoms and signs

Common symptoms and signs of catfish stings include:

  • Skin pain
  • Burning sensation on the affected/bitten region of the skin
  • Swelling of the skin
  • Redness of the skin
  • Hives
  • Blisters
  • Lacerations or cuts
  • Lymph glands begin to swell
  • Puncture wounds i.e. penetrating wounds
  • Bleeding

The following are a few rare yet fatal symptoms that may occur as well:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Weakness and fatigue


Call 911 immediately if you see a person in marine areas having trouble breathing as he may have been stung by a catfish.

Follow these treatment steps till help arrives:

1. Get the casualty out of the water as soon as possible. Remember safety first! Do not jump into the water if it is not safe for you to do so. If you cannot swim, use a long rope or branch to pull the person out. You may also ask anybody around you to make a chain of people to help the person out if any of the materials are not present.

2. Check the ABCs: Airway, Breathing and Circulation

  • Check the casualty’s airway and clear any obstruction if present
  • Check if the casualty is breathing
  • Check for signs of circulation such as pulse and movement such as coughing

3. If the casualty is not breathing, not showing signs of circulation or is unconscious:

  • If the casualty is an adult, begin adult CPR immediately
  • If the casualty is a child, begin child CPR immediately

4. Clean the wound caused by the catfish

  • If any spines are in the skin, remove the spines using a clean pair of tweezers
  • Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water
  • Continue washing with fresh or salt water

5. Submerge the affected region in hot water

  • Soak the wound in hot (not warm) water for 30 minutes. The water should be as hot as the casualty can endure
  • DO NOT cover the wound with any gauze or material

6. Treat symptoms of the bite

  • For pain, over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be taken. Avoid giving aspirin to children and teenagers under 18 years of age.

7. Take the casualty to the emergency department if the ambulance has not arrived yet

At the hospital, the doctor will treat the wound and give a tetanus shot to reduce the risk of infection. It is very important that you get a tetanus shot after every 10 years. If you have already gotten tetanus shot within the last 5 years, your doctor may advise a booster shot. Additionally, pain medication and antibiotics will be given to inhibit the chances of infection.

 Learn More

To learn more about poisons and how to manage situations such as catfish stings sign up for a first aid class (enrol here).

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