Pet health special: Cat bite abscesses

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Cat bites are a pet health concern for these two fighting kittens.

By: Dr. Jane Matheys
Associate Veterinarian
The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

As a veterinarian, there’s no pet health condition I love treating more than cat bite abscesses, and we see a lot of these in our practice. In fact, it’s a standing joke around our clinic that every Saturday that I work I seem to end the day by treating an abscess!

Many of these abscesses are fairly superficial and easy to cure, but in other cases the cat can become seriously ill and may need extensive surgery to clean up the abscess. Here are some things you need to know about cat bite abscesses.

Cats are highly territorial and often fight when they encounter other cats outdoors. When a tooth from another cat punctures the skin, it injects bacteria deep into the underlying tissues. A cat’s skin has the ability to heal very quickly, so the bacteria become trapped under the skin in a warm, moist environment where they thrive and multiply. The body sends out many white blood cells to help fight this infection, and 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, and it generally appears about two to five days after the initial bite.

Cat bite wounds are almost always sustained when cats face off or when they run. Consequently, puncture wounds and abscesses are commonly found on the face, neck and forelimbs, or on the tail, rump and backside. Detecting bites can be difficult because cats often appear to look fine after a fight, and their fur often hides the bite wounds.

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Apart from local soreness, your cat may not show ill effects from the bite wound for several days. However, as the cat health condition worsens, fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy may be noticeable as the bite becomes infected. Many cats are taken to the veterinarian at this stage, where the abscess typically appears as a soft, painful swelling. In most of these cases, lancing and flushing the abscess plus antibiotics may be all that is required.

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If not discovered in this early stage, the abscess will continue to swell and the infection can begin to do significant damage to the tissue beneath the skin. The abscess may spontaneously rupture, leaking foul-smelling pus onto the fur. These types of wounds almost always need surgical management in addition to antibiotics. Under anesthesia, the wound is trimmed of the dead flesh (debrided), and the infection is flushed out with copious amounts if disinfectant solution. If the wound is large, sutures may be required to partially close it. Typically, a small portion of the wound is left open to allow continued drainage for a couple of days. In the most severe cases, a temporary drain needs to be placed at the bottom part of the wound to allow any future pus or fluid to escape. Drains are removed after 2 or 3 days and the wound is allowed to continue healing on its own. Surgeries like this can cost around $400-$500, so investing in pet health insurance while your cat is young and healthy can help you afford excellent medical and surgical care for your cat with these unexpected emergencies.

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Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and rabies can all be spread by bites. If your cat goes outside, he or she should be vaccinated against FeLV and Rabies. Follow-up testing for FeLV and FIV should be done about 8 weeks following a bite to be sure transmission has not taken place.

The best prevention of cat bite abscesses is to keep cats indoors and prevent them from roaming and fighting. Supervise outdoor access by teaching cats to tolerate a harness and walk on a leash or provide them with a safe and sturdy outdoor enclosure. If cats insist on going outside, make sure they’re back in the house before nightfall since so many more fights seem to take place after dark. Neutering will also reduce a male cat’s desire to roam and get into fights.

For more information about pet health, visit Pets Best Insurance.

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