Treating and Preventing Abscesses in Cats
Cats tend to develop abscesses in the skin or under the skin more commonly than dogs. This is because when cats fight, they introduce bacteria deeper with their sharp claws and teeth. The skin closes over the wound faster than in dogs, trapping the bacteria. Abscesses can also form for other reasons, such as tooth root infections where there is a swelling on the face, often below the eye. Abscesses can form on internal organs also, but luckily these are very rare. Continue reading to learn more about the causes, treatment, and prevention of cat abscesses.
How do cats get abscesses?
After a cat fight, the bacteria that was introduced under the skin starts to proliferate. The body tries to stop the spread of the infection by sending in white blood cells to fight the bacteria. If the white cells can’t resolve the infection, the body forms a capsule, walling off the infected area. This results in an accumulation of purulent (pus) material. This only takes a few days to occur.
Abscesses tend to present as a soft to firm, warm and painful swelling on the body. Cats most commonly develop abscesses on the face, neck, legs, and tail regions. The abscesses can be hard to find in some cases and owners notice their cat is lethargic, not eating well, hiding, and may be limping. Occasionally the abscess will rupture at home and you will notice a foul-smelling discharge or sticky material in the fur.
How are abscesses treated in cats?
The abscess, once encapsulated, needs to rupture and drain to start to heal. Once the abscess is draining, a lot of the pain is reduced, but the infection is still present. If the abscess does not rupture on its own, your vet can lance it and leave an opening for the material to drain. In large or deep abscesses, surgery may be needed to debride the area, flush out as much purulent material as possible, and place a drain tube to allow for continued drainage. The infected material will drain around the tube for a few days and can be messy to deal with. It’s always best to get the abscess treated before this is necessary!
Since the abscess is full of bacteria, an antibiotic is indicated to resolve the infection. There are many types of bacteria, mostly anaerobic, that can be present. This means the initial antibiotic may not work. If your cat has an abscess that does not improve or forms again, a sample of the material should be collected and sent to the lab to identify the exact bacteria that are present and let your vet know what the best antibiotic option is.
How else can I help my cat?
Since most cat abscesses are a result of fight wounds, all cats with an abscess should be tested for Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) at the time of the initial visit and again 60 days later. This is because it can take time for the viruses to be detectable if they were just introduced.
Keeping your cats indoors only and having them spayed and neutered will help deter roaming and fighting behaviors that are the most common causes of cat abscesses.
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