Catfish Sting

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on November 01, 2021

Catfish Sting Overview

Catfish have whiskers sticking out from the area around the mouth. Catfish are often found in muddy rivers, lakes, and along coasts in tropical or subtropical waters. They are not aggressive. People who are stung by catfish are usually fishing or swimming when they make contact, usually by stepping on it. Both saltwater and fresh-water catfish are dangerous. Each has three spines and stingers on fins on top of and on the underside of its body.

Catfish Sting Symptoms

The main symptom is severe pain and inflammation at the site of the sting.

Catfish Sting Treatment

  • Soaking the affected area in water as hot as is tolerable usually relieves pain from a sting.
  • Spines should be removed with tweezers.
  • The wound should be scrubbed and irrigated with fresh water.
  • The wound should not be taped or sewn together.
  • You may need a tetanus shot.
  • Oral antibiotics are usually recommended for stings that become infected. Antibiotics should be taken for at least 5 days after all signs of infection have cleared. Potential drug allergies should be checked prior to starting any antibiotic. A doctor can recommend the appropriate antibiotic. Some antibiotics can cause sensitivity to the sun, so a sunscreen (at least SPF 30) is also recommended.
  • Pain associated with a catfish sting may be relieved with acetaminophen every 4 hours or ibuprofen every 6-8 hours.

When to Seek Medical Care

  • Medical treatment should be sought as soon as possible after a catfish sting.
  • If the person who’s been stung isn’t breathing, start CPR and have someone call 911.

Show Sources



Fermie, P. The Illustrated Practical Book of First Aid & Family Health, Lorenz Books, 2005.

Shepherd, S. Journal of Wilderness Medicine, 1994.

Health and Safety Institute GotoAID: “Catfish Sting.”

Utox Update, University of Utah College of Pharmacy: “Marine Envenomations.”


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