Catfish Stings

Catfish stings are common when the fish is handled or kicked. Certain catfish species produce venom in glands at the base of the dorsal spine, but most do not.

Catfish venom causes local pain, redness and swelling. Of more concern is the wound caused by the spine and the likelihood of infection. Catfish have venom glands along the stout spine of the dorsal and pectoral fin. Severe pain and inflammation occur at the site of the sting.

The pain from a catfish injury is instantaneous. It may last for several hours in the less toxic species and as long as 48 hours in the more toxic species. In addition to pain, the area around the wound will initially be pale and then turn blue, which is followed by redness and swelling of near-by tissues. The most severe reactions include swelling of the entire limb with accompanying chronically swollen lymph nodes, numbness, and risk of localized gangrene.


  • After the injury, immediately immerse the affected area in water as hot as you can stand until pain is relieved.
  • Remove spines with tweezers.
  • Scrub the wound and irrigate with fresh water.
  • Do not tape or sew the wound together.
  • The wound must be inspected for remaining spine segments and integumentary sheath material. The wound should be evaluated radio-graphically for foreign matter. If foreign matter remains, the wound should be irrigated again.
  • If repeated irrigation is unsuccessful the wound must be surgically explored and cleaned. The wound site may be infiltrated with procaine or another suitable anesthetic. If local infiltration is unsuccessful in relieving pain, intramuscular or intravenous meperidine hydrochloride may be beneficial.
  • Tetanus prophylaxis is indicated if there is any question about the tetanus status.
  • Bacitracin or triple antibiotic ointment may be applied.
  • Oral antibiotics are usually recommended for stings that become infected. If infection develops, continue antibiotics e.g. Ciprofloxacin or trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole for at least 5 days after all signs of infection have cleared. Check for drug allergy prior to starting any antibiotic.
  • Pain may be relieved with 1-2 acetaminophen (Tylenol) every 4 hours and/or 1-2 ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) every 6-8 hours. Check for drug allergy or history of adverse reactions prior to starting any medication.

Medical Advice (Q&As) on “Catfish Stings

  1. Sarah Northway

    I recently met some people who used your article to advocate soaking wounds in scalding water because they believed it was the only way to prevent gangrene. It was very very painful and did more damage than good.

    Please be more clear that “as hot add you can stand” is around 40 degrees Celsius, and that the only purpose of this step is to relieve pain, not prevent infection.

  2. Lynette

    Its been a week since the sting an my hand and wrist still hurts. I didnt go to the doctor. I did soak it and clean it.

    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      Is the affected region red, swollen, itchy or painful? If yes, is the swelling or any other symptom increasing in size or severity?

  3. Kathy

    My husband was stung in his ring finger 2 months ago. The finger is still swollen and aches but no signs of infection. Worse in the morning. Any idea why this could be?

    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      Any open wound? Which part of the finger shows the swelling, the whole of it, the upper soft part, any joint area?

  4. Dayna bergman

    It’s been 2 weeks since being stung by a catfish. Site is swollen and itchy. I do not have any pain and it does not hurt to touch. Is this normal? I’ve been applying topical antibiotic cream.

    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      Need not worry if the swelling is reducing in size.

      If the swollen portion is as such or you see any pus collection there, medical treatment is required.

  5. Dave Jacobik

    I was stung December 30th in the knuckle of my middle finger. It bled a little but did not really hurt or continue bleeding. It is now almost 2 months and the area is still swollen, but no pain. Any advice?

  6. Jodi

    Hello, I was stung 5 days ago in Florida on my ankle . I never seen a doctor at the time. Pain was severe, but relieved with warm water. I’ve used a topical antibiotic and washed well. However, I have, what I would call nerve pain, and loss of sensation in the top of my foot. No swelling, no redness, no heat. Just pain, with pins and needles. Is this something that will go away with time?


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