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What is an Abscess on a Cat?

Abscesses are accumulations of pus that usually form as a result of 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 has the ability to 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 quickly heals over providing the bacteria a warm moist environment to thrive and multiply.

Three to five days later the abscess can be seen or felt as a soft painful swelling under the skin. 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 importantly 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, as the infection worsens, fever, loss of appetite and lethargy may be noticeable. These are symptoms of release of bacteria toxins and by products of dying tissue into the blood stream. The cat can become quite ill.


What are the symptoms of cat abscess?

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 of time.

  • 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 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 abscess?

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 co-operative, 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 which promotes more rapid healing and resolution of the infection. Your vet will usually insert a surgical drain in the abscess site to allow further discharge to occur over the next few days. Usually antibiotics will be prescribed and the drain removed a few days later.

Please also see Wound Care

This advice does not substitute a proper consultation with a veterinarian and is intended only as a guide. We recommend you follow all advice as given by your veterinarian and contact them immediately with any concerns. You must follow medications as dispensed by your veterinary clinic and monitor your pet closely during their recovery period noting any changes and contacting your veterinary clinic as needed.

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