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Addressing Cat Bite Abscesses

Posted on: September 7th, 2007 by

Posted by Arnold Plotnick, DVM on 9/7/2007 in Scratching Post Articles

Although cats living together indoor occasionally fight over territory or for owner attention, it rarely leads to serious injury. However, when cats encounter other cats outdoors, fights are likely to occur – usually over territory.

A cat’s sharp teeth can produce puncture wounds when they bite. But the full damage goes beyond the wound due to the tremendous amount of bacteria inside a feline mouth.

Let’s run down the dangerous scenario:

The puncture wound seals quickly and bacteria injected into the skin become trapped.
The bone marrow sends out many white blood cells to help fight this infection.
The white blood cells and bacteria accumulate to form a painful pocket of pus just beneath the skin.
This collection of pus is an abscess. Abscesses are common in cats, owing to the tough, elastic nature of feline skin, which readily seals over contaminated puncture wounds, allowing for pus to accumulate beneath the skin.
Trauma and infection are not the only concerns regarding cat bite injuries. Feline feuds can result in the transmission of several life threatening infectious diseases from one cat to the other. Examples include feline leukemia (FeLV) virus, feline immunodeficiency (FIV) virus, Bartonella and rabies. Even worse: some of these infectious diseases, particularly Bartonella and rabies pack zoonotic powers – meaning that these infections can be transmitted to humans.

The diagnosis of an abscess is based on history and physical examination findings by your veterinarian. Top candidates for abscesses are cats who spend time outdoors, especially intact males who are more likely to roam and tussle over turf rights than neutered males or spayed females.

Unfortunately, detecting bites in a cat can be difficult because cats often appear to look fine after an encounter. Over the next two to four days after a fight, bacteria deposited in the wound begin to multiply. The cat develops a fever, becomes lethargic and often stops eating. Many cats are taken to the veterinarian at this stage, where the abscess appears as either a firm or soft painful swelling.

If not discovered in this early stage, the abscess will continue to swell, burrowing through tissues and accumulating more pus. The abscess may then burst through the overlying skin, releasing creamy yellow or brownish, often foul-smelling pus. Overlying hair may become matted with dried discharge.

Common locations for abscesses are the face and neck, tail, back and legs – although any part of the body can be bitten during a fight. If a bite wound occurs in a location that does not have much loose skin, such as a leg, the infection can dissect its way through the tissues, causing diffuse swelling instead of a discrete collection of pus. This diffuse swelling is called cellulitis.

The goal of treatment is to prevent further contamination by cleaning the wound, removing dead tissue and treating for infection. The earlier a cat receives treatment, the better the chance that the wound will heal without complication.

In most cases, a cat is anesthetized so an incision can be made into the abscess. The wound is then flushed with an antibacterial solution to further remove pus and other debris. If detected and addressed at an early stage, lancing and flushing (plus antibiotics) may be all that is required.

If discovered at a later stage, where significant tissue damage has occurred beneath the skin, your veterinarian may need to debride the wound (that is, remove dead or compromised tissue). In some cases, the veterinarian may find it necessary to insert a drain (a piece of soft rubber tubing that exits at the lowest point of the wound) to allow any future accumulation of fluid or pus to escape.

After debriding – if the wound is large – sutures may be required to partially close it, however, most wounds are left open to drain and heal on their own. Very large skin defects may require some type of reconstructive skin surgery after the infection has resolved. Once an abscess is opened up so that pus can drain, most cats immediately begin feeling better.

Antibiotics are vital because oral bacteria are literally injected below the skin during the biting process and nearly all of these wounds are infected. Penicillin derivatives are the antibiotics of choice. Pus that has a particularly putrid smell usually indicates that anaerobic bacteria – bacteria that thrive in environments where oxygen is low or absent – are involved in the infection. In these cases, antibiotics known to be effective against anaerobes should be administered. A short course – perhaps 5 to 10 days – is typically all that is required.

Occasionally, some bite wound infections do not respond to initial antibiotic therapy, and a bacterial culture and sensitivity test may be required to determine which specific bacteria are infecting the wound and which antibiotics are most effective.

The prognosis for a properly treated abscess is excellent. Yet, cats who engage in frequent fights are at high risk for contracting serious illnesses, such as FeLV and FIV. Cats who contract these viruses may then spread them to other cats in future encounters.

Cats with FeLV or FIV also have weakened defenses against infection, and may have difficulty defeating an infection if bitten by other cats. Outdoor cats should be regularly tested for these viruses. Although the majority of cats will test positive within several weeks of being bitten by an infected cat, a cat that tests negative should be retested no sooner than 90 days after exposure, to rule out false negative results obtained during incubation of the virus.

Cats who go outdoors should also be current on their vaccinations, especially rabies and FeLV. A vaccine against FIV was introduced several years ago and is gaining popularity.

The best prevention is to keep your cat indoors – supervising his outdoor access by teaching him tolerate a harness and walk on a leash or provide him with a safe and sturdy outdoor enclosure. Neutering will also reduce a male cat’s desire to roam and get into fights.

Signs of an Abscess

Cats tend to mask pain. Please give your cat a thorough head-to-tail inspection each day and consult your veterinarian if your cat exhibits any of these signs:

Poor or absent appetite
Visible puncture wounds
Swelling or lump on skin
Limping (may indicate a bite on a leg)
Pain or reluctance to be picked up or touched
Fever (a healthy cat’s temperature ranges between 100 and 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
Swollen lymph nodes

The Benefits of a Barking Dog

Posted on: September 4th, 2007 by

By: Arden Moore

Far too often, people equate barking with bad behavior in a dog. Just like people, dogs vocalize in many ways to convey various messages.

In my neighborhood, we all know (and hear) a mini-Schnauzer named Buddy who lives with a fun and feisty senior named Flo. Buddy unleashes a series of high-pitched yap-yap-yaps whenever anyone approaches the front door or whenever he spots trespassing cats in his backyard.

In this case, barking serves a benefit. Flo wears a hearing aid, and her dog seems to tune in when he is needed by running up to her and sounding a noisy alert. Buddy’s breed was born to bark. Schnauzers rank among the chattiest of canine breeds.

Having a noisy dog comes in handy for Flo during those times when solicitors come to her front door uninvited. Buddy barks so loud and so long that Flo can’t hear what the people are trying to pitch. They leave in frustration and Flo rewards Buddy for a bark well timed. Buddy also barks to awaken Flo if he hears a strange sound in the backyard at night. Most dogs seek jobs, and in Buddy’s case, he feels he earns his daily kibble by serving as Flo’s keen sense of ears. He detects everything that goes past Flo’s house.

But Buddy doesn’t bark just to bark. Whenever I bring over my two dogs, Chipper and Cleo, Buddy doesn’t bark – he cries out in pure joy as the sight of seeing his two doggy play pals coming up his walk. He also turns off his barking machine once welcomed guests are inside Flo’s home.

Flo has been a lifelong dog lover and she does her best to keep Buddy at his best. She signed him up for Pets Best insurance when he was a pup, has his coat professionally groomed and feeds him only high-quality food.

In the beginning, Flo would apologize for Buddy’s noise-making ways. Now, she embraces his vocalizations and proudly nicknamed him, Buddy Barky. Between a home alarm system and Buddy, Flo feels justifiably safe and secure.

Arden Moore, author of 17 books on cats and dogs, including her latest, The Dog Behavior Answer Book and The Cat Behavior Answer Book.

Choosing the Right Dog Food: What to Ask

Posted on: September 4th, 2007 by

Posted by Shannon Steffen on 9/4/2007 in Nutrition

Dog foods come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. Wet dog food is used primarily for those canines with particular taste palettes or as an intermittent treat. For the less discriminating, dog dry food varieties are available. It is not necessarily the delicate palette of a dog that determines what type of food it eats, but rather a combination of its dietary need, availability of the food brand in the area, owner preferences, and financial cost.

Current Foods

It may be simple if there were only wet and dry foods on the market. However, there are numerous varieties of dog foods currently in production, and each one claims to provide different nutrients, minerals, and life-sustaining substances to help dogs live longer and healthier lives. Often new dog owners will become confused by the numerous aisles of dog foods at the local pet store outlets. Some stores stock over 50 types of dog food alone, which would easily raise the question as to which one to choose.

Health Concerns and Dog Foods

So what dog food is the best? First the dog owner needs to know the dog and its particular needs. Some questions to answer include:

Is the dog a puppy, young adult or senior dog?

Is the dog overweight, underweight, or the correct weight for its breed?
Is the dog very active or less active?
Is the dog a toy, small, medium, large, or giant breed?
Does the dog have any allergies to certain ingredients?
Does the dog need any additional supplements in its food to help prevent certain possible health problems in the future such as hip dysplasia, joint problems, or eye problems?
Does the dog currently have any health problems that may make certain ingredients not digest well?
Has the dog’s vet discussed any dietary concerns that may cause problems for the dog such the size of the kibble, the amount of moisture in the food, or anything else that may cause an upset stomach?
These are only some of the questions that must be answered prior to a trip to the local pet store. Of course, no one would not want to feed an 8-week-old puppy a senior formula or dog food that is lacking in those nutrients and minerals needed during a puppy’s major growth phase. If the owners are unsure as to how to answer these questions, they should consult their veterinarian prior to making any changes in dog foods.

Regular, Holistic, and Organic Foods

Once those questions have been answered, the dog owner must decide which type of food is best: regular, holistic, or organic food. Those dog foods that are labeled as the “regular” dog food are those that may be readily found on any supermarket shelf. These products are usually made of a lower quality grade food and have less stringent quality controls. Holistic foods are predominantly labeled as such and have a high quality food grade, strict quality control measures on the production of their food, and are fortified with higher quantities of nutrients and minerals. Organic dog foods are comparable to human organic foods. They do not use preservatives or chemicals in their foods, and all ingredients are made locally within the country and are of an organic quality.

As each food has both positive and negative attributes to it, choosing a food is a very personal choice for each dog owner to make. However, there are some recommendations when deciding between these types of food. Dog owners will want to choose a dog food that:

Is appropriate for the age of the dog.
Has the highest nutrients and minerals needed for the dog.
Contains real meat (duck, fish, chicken, lamb) or “meal” within its first 2 ingredients.
Contains the proper protein and fat percentages for the dog’s breed and age. (Walk with your veterinarian for recommended guidelines.)
Does not have any “by-product” as listed as a main ingredient.
Provides easy-to-read feeding guidelines on the package.
Provides a company contact phone number on the package and is readily available to answer any questions or concerns dog owners may have about the product.
Once these questions are answered, you should have a better understanding of the quality of food that is best for your dog. This will help narrow the list to a few specific brands that can then be checked to make sure they meet any health concerns your dog may have.

Contamination and Food Recalls

With the recent spur of dog and cat food recalls, pet owners have become panicked. Are they feeding the best food or are all foods at risk of possibly being contaminated. Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee that any food is safe for consumption; this includes both pet and human food alike. Product testing and quality control are crucial to ensure that food is okay for consumption. Human food has a series of checks and balances that it must go through before it can be placed on the grocery store shelves. However, not all pet food and its ingredients go through this same type of rigorous testing, and even some human foods pass inspection and still create series of ailments and death. This is why it is crucial that whatever food chosen to feed to the dog is of the highest quality and that the manufacturer performs their own series of health checks on the food before it is shipped out to the consumers. This includes testing on the ingredients that are mixed with the food during its early stages of production. Such foods are usually more expensive but are well worth the cost when compared with the veterinary bills or losing that long cherished canine.

In light of the recent pet food recalls, please check the following:

All pet foods owned should be compared to the current food recalls on their manufacturers’ websites.
If the pet foods are being recalled due to a specific ingredient that was contaminated, and the product is not currently used, check the current dog food and make sure that it does not contain the ingredients that are listed as being contaminated. Cross contamination is possible.
Confirm that the producer of the dog food has proper testing and quality control.
Ensure that the dog food company’s plant is USDA and APHIS inspected.
All ingredients used by the manufacturer should be EU certified.
All incoming ingredients should be sampled and every batch of food should be lab tested prior to shipping to the market.
Rules to Follow

Feeding the proper dog food alone does not help ensure the long life and best health of your family dog. There are some other simple rules that every dog lover and owner should follow:

Fresh water is a must! Refill the water dish often and at meal times.
Start to reduce frequency of feedings after your puppy has reached three months old. This means the pup will go from three meals a day to two meals a day.
Mature dogs should be fed twice a day. This allows them time to properly digest the food and move it through their system without becoming bloated.
Check with the veterinarian to see which food would supply the most amounts of nutrients and minerals needed for the pup. Most dog owners will recommend staying with a type of food specified for the breed of dog.
Look for foods that contain fish oil or sunflower seed oil. These will help promote healthy skin and a shiny coat.
If a person must feed table scraps, treat the pup to a very small and non-seasoned portion as to not upset the pup’s stomach.
Don’t change the dog’s food rapidly! If you must, change it gradually and infrequently. Unlike humans, a dog’s digestive system does much better when on one food. Changing food frequently or quickly will result in upset stomachs, diarrhea, throwing up, and very bad gas! This includes giving table scraps.
Keep the dog away from any hazardous food such as chocolate, coffee, cocoa, tea, onions, garlic, mushrooms, grapes, raisins, raw salmon, salmonoid fish, macadamia nuts, nutmeg, and alcohol. Very small quantities may not harm your pup. However, the greater the quantity of any of these foods, the greater the risk for health problems such as kidney failure, shock, seizures, or worse, death.
Keep in mind that as the quality of foods increase, the price of the food increases as well. However, it is the reputation of the company, the quality of its goods, and the ability of the food to give the dog the nutrients it needs that should be taken into account when choosing a dog food. Ultimately, one or two dog foods will stand above the rest and the owner will feel confident that they are feeding their dog the best food possible. Remember that the goal of every dog owner is to provide a nutritionally balance diet for their canine family member so that it lives a healthy, happy, and long life.

Shannon Steffen is a freelance writer with and


Day, C. (2007). Human Foods that Poison Pets.

History of Dog Food. (2007).

Product Testing and Quality Control. (2007). Eagle Pack Pet Foods.

Ruben, D. (2007). Are Grapes and Raisins Really Toxic?

Tobiassen-Crosby, J. (2007). Veterinary Q & A: Chocolate Toxicity.

Dishing Up Grr-eat Advice

Posted on: August 27th, 2007 by

By: Arden Moore

It’s not everyday one receives a personalized letter from Martha Stewart. Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine I would garner praise from the queen of daytime TV regarding a six-year-old dog cookbook.

It just goes to show that some nutritional advice is timeless. In this case, I wrote a book called Real Food for Dogs: 50 Vet-Approved Recipes for a Healthier Dog (Storey Books). The recent commercial pet food scare sent sales of my cookbook soaring all the way up to #6 on Amazon. The book has sold more than 40,000 copies this spring, and my life has been forever changed. When I wrote the book, the meals and treats were intended to compliment quality commercial dog food as ways to hone in good doggy manners. The pet food recall, though, found more people turning to my book for safe ways to prepare food for their dogs.

I’ve been on dozens of television and radio shows coast-to-coast plus Canada to tout tips on how to prepare healthy meals and treats for dogs. One stop included an appearance on the “Martha Stewart Living Radio” show with co-hosts Dean and Betsy. Just before airtime, the producer whispered in my ear, “You know, Martha listens to this show. She listens very carefully.”

During the hour, we prepared a recipe from my book called “Bow Wow Brownies” (made with carob – a safe substitute for chocolate, which is lethal for dogs) and made it in honor of Martha’s Chow Chow named Paw Paw. I also gave the producer an autographed copy of my book to deliver to Martha. Within a week back from New York City, I received a letter from Martha, who practiced – as always – good etiquette. She wrote:

“Dear Arden: Thank you so much for sending me a copy of your book, Real Food for Dogs. It was kind of you to think of me and very much appreciated. I have started preparing more home-cooked meals for my dogs since the recent dog food scare and they seem to be happier and healthier because of it. Kind regards, Martha Stewart”

Today, the letter is inside a frame and displayed in my home office in Oceanside, California. True, the letter comes from a celebrity, but the words come from a person who loves her dogs and who wants to do what she can to keep them healthy. That’s the real message all of us who are fortunate to have a dog share our lives should heed.

Plays Well With Others? What to Know Before Hitting the Dog Park

Posted on: August 27th, 2007 by

By: Arden Moore

My dog, Chipper, goes ga-ga if I mention the phrase “woof park.” That’s my nickname for dog parks. If I say that phrase – even in a whisper – Chipper, my Golden Retriever/Husky mix, will start to whine and wiggle with delight.

For nearly three years, we’ve gone to a local dog park in the early morning. There’s a regular crowd there featuring well-mannered dogs just looking to play a friendly game of chase (or chase me, please) and tennis ball fetching. The owners pay attention to the canine antics and share training tips and goofy dog stories with one another.

Recently, however, we arrived an hour later than usual. The usual gang was not there. Chipper and my small dog, Cleo, bolted into the fenced-in dog park and began what they normally do – the perimeter prowl. They stopped and sniffed. Their noses were filled with the scents of dogs and other delights – pure canine bliss, I guess.

At dog parks, I pay close heed to the body languages unleashed from my dogs and other dogs. This time, an Australian Shepherd mix made a direct beeline to Chipper. In the world of dog etiquette, that’s a rude – and threatening – gesture. Most dogs come up to one another from the side. This dog then growled and leaped on Chipper. I produced my deepest, I-mean-business tone and yelled at both to stop and sit. Surprisingly, they did. If they hadn’t, I was prepared to use Chipper’s leash to safely separate them without getting my hands bit.

I managed to put the leash on a shaken Chipper and noticed that she had a cut below her left eye. It was starting to bleed. Meanwhile, the owner of the Aussie just looked, shrugged and said, “Oh well. Dogs will be dogs.” Unbelievable.

Fortunately, I keep a dog first-aid kit in my car, and I cleaned Chipper’s wounds and stopped the bleeding. Then I noticed another man coming back into the parking lot with a dog limping. It turns out that the Aussie attacked his dog, too.

Dog parks are designed to be places where well-mannered dogs can romp and socialize. They are not places for aggressive dogs to try to “work out” their bully tendencies. And, they are certainly not places for owners to abandon their responsibilities to keep their dogs from harming others.

My parting advice: Please pay close attention to the interactions of dogs – and the watchfulness of their owners – before you decide to bring your dog inside the park. If you see aggression, leave and treat your dog to a long walk elsewhere. Even though your dog will have to be on a leash, it will be a far safer way to get in some exercise.