My cat has a swollen face
Facial swelling in cats can have multiple causes, all of which require veterinary attention. Facial swelling will usually be accompanied by pain and will generally make your cat feel miserable. Continue reading for more information about why your cat may have a swollen face.
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Common causes of facial swelling in cats
Cat bite abscess
If your cat gets bitten on the face or cheek during a fight, the incredibly sharp and bacteria laden canine teeth penetrate deep into the cat’s skin. However, the entry wound is usually very small and soon heals over. The bacteria pushed deep into the cat’s skin multiply, causing infection and where the pus is trapped under the skin, it becomes swollen. This is incredibly painful and will often cause a cat to feel unwell and stop eating. Urgent veterinary treatment is needed in the form of antibiotics, pain relief and lancing (draining) of the abscess. This is so the pus and infection can be cleaned out and the area can start to heal. Often you may need to keep the area clean with some antiseptic solution the vet may give you, if your cat is amenable to this idea. The abscess sometimes does burst of its own accord at home, but treatment in the form of antibiotics and pain relief are still needed.
Periodontal disease can lead to the development of a tooth root abscess, which usually occurs on the upper molar teeth (back teeth). The infection spreads into the gum and causes pain and swelling. Bad breath (halitosis) may be noted as well as pain, facial swelling and a reluctance to eat or chew on the affected side. Treatment usually involves removing the offending tooth, draining the abscess and a course of antibiotics and pain relief.
This is a rare but not unheard of cause of facial swelling in cats. Sometimes objects can penetrate into the skin either on the outside of the face or from the inside of the mouth or eye, with grass seeds or other cat’s teeth being the most common culprits. The presence of this foreign material in the tissue leads to a reaction and swelling.
Lump / tumour (neoplasia)
One of the more serious causes of facial swelling in cats is the development of a tumour. These can occur inside the mouth, nose, behind the eye or around the jaw bone. Usually these types of tumours are fast growing and rapidly spread so urgent assessment and treatment (if possible) is required to keep your cat comfortable.
Cats are very inquisitive creatures and can sometimes be on the receiving end of a bee or wasp sting. This commonly occurs on the mouth when they try to bite the insect. You may notice them pawing at their mouth, salivating more than usual and the onset of facial swelling. Most of the time the swelling will be self limiting, but in some very sensitive cats, the swelling spreads and can lead to breathing difficulties. This is an emergency if this happens and your cat requires emergency treatment at the vet clinic.
Diagnosis of facial swelling in cats
In many cases your vet will be able to examine your cat and discuss a treatment plan without any further diagnostic tests. In some cases your pet may need to be sedated to examine inside their mouth or to perform x-rays. Your vet may discuss taking a small sample of the swelling either with a needle or by taking a biopsy of the swelling. A biopsy allows your vet to examine a larger sample of the swelling to obtain a more accurate diagnosis. In some situations your vet may advise more specialist imaging such as an MRI scan.
Treatment of facial swelling in cats
Your vet will discuss a treatment plan with you based on the underlying cause of the facial swelling. This may involve medications such as antihistamines, antibiotics or anti-inflammatories or surgical treatment e.g. extraction of a tooth or removal of a tumour.
When to visit your vet
Most cases of facial swelling in cats should be investigated by your vet. Even more so if your cat is not eating or having difficulty eating, if they are lethargic and not acting their normal self, or if the swelling is affecting their breathing - this would be considered an emergency.
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This article was written by Amy Everden RVN, CSQP, ISFM CertFN. Amy is a registered veterinary nurse (RVN) who has worked in a variety of first opinion and 24 hour veterinary hospitals. In 2019 she completed her certificate in Feline Nursing with distinction.