What is an Abscess on a Cat?
Abscesses are accumulations of pus that usually form from puncture wounds inflicted during cat fights. (real fights or mock fights) There can be causes of abscesses other than cat fight wounds, for example, foreign bodies such as grass seeds, splinters etc. It may not always be evident what has caused an abscess until the contents have been released and the cavity in the tissues examined.
How do abscesses on cats occur?
A cat’s skin can heal very quickly. When a tooth or claw from another cat punctures the skin, it injects bacteria into the underlying tissues. The small puncture wound then heals over, providing the bacteria with a warm moist environment to thrive and multiply.
The abscess can be seen or felt as a soft, painful swelling under the skin three to five days later. Not every wound will abscess. Development depends on the extent and the depth of the bite, the number and type of bacteria present in the wound and, most notably the ability of the victim’s immune system to fight off the infection.
Apart from local soreness, your cat may not show ill effects from the bite wound for some days. However, fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy may be noticeable as the infection worsens. These are symptoms of the release of bacteria toxins and by-products of dying tissue into the bloodstream. The cat can become quite ill.
What are the symptoms of cat abscesses?
If your cat has an abscess, he will be in a great deal of pain. Suspect your cat has an abscess if:
- There is a sudden loss of appetite.
- Your cat becomes less active. He may sit ‘hunched over’ for long periods.
- He is reluctant to move or play.
- He is reluctant for you to touch him, or he is in obvious pain when you touch him.
- He is warm to the touch, indicating he may have a fever.
- You may notice a lump or hot, inflamed area.
- Combined with the other symptoms above, your cat may begin to limp.
You may not always notice an abscess as the cat’s fur can hide it.
What is the treatment for cat abscesses?
The abscess may rupture spontaneously, discharging thick yellow or brownish foul-smelling pus through a hole in the skin. The cat may then feel a lot better and resume eating. If the cat is cooperative, clip away the fur surrounding the wound. Bathe away any discharge and any scab that has formed. Wash with warm salty water or dilute hydrogen peroxide (50/50 10 volume). The more discharge that escapes, the better.
If the abscess does not rupture within a day or two, it is best to have it opened and drained surgically by your vet. Your vet will drain the pus and remove dying tissue, promoting more rapid healing and resolution of the infection. Your vet will usually insert a surgical drain in the abscess site to allow further discharge over the next few days. Usually, antibiotics will be prescribed, and the drain removed a few days later.
Suppose you know your cat has been bitten. In that case, it is advisable to take it to the vet or veterinary hospital for examination. Potentially serious wounds can be treated with antibiotics before they develop into abscesses. Early action can often avoid abscesses and expensive complications.
Following a cat fight, inspect your cat for tell-tale painful areas and puncture wounds. Particularly search around the head and neck and forelegs, and on the lower back at the base of the spine. Often the injury can be somewhere to the rear of your cat. This happens because your cat is fleeing from its attacker. Feel for matting together with tufts of hair or blood at the puncture site. Do not dismiss small holes as insignificant. Apply gentle pressure at the site and judge the cat’s reaction to pain. Repeat this test the next day. Increasing soreness is a cause for concern.
Neutering male cats is the most effective method of reducing the incidence and severity of fights. Keeping your cat inside at night will also help prevent fighting.
When to visit the vet
If you know that your cat has been bitten or has a claw wound, it is best to take it to the vet before an abscess develops. Penetrating bite wounds are almost always infected.
- If your cat is off, it’s food or in pain.
- If the abscess is extensive.
- If the abscess does not rupture or begin to resolve within 48 hours.
- If the abscess ruptures but is not clearing up within 48 hours or is re-forming.