Cat Bite Abscesses

One of the most common problems we see in our feline patients here at the surgery are Cat Bite Abscesses. Abscesses develop in cats most commonly as a result of fighting between cats, often due to territorial confrontations, which unfortunately are regular occurrences within densely populated urban and suburban areas. Cat fights usually end up with one or both of the cats being bitten. A cat’s mouth normally contains a large number of bacteria, and when biting another cat, these bacteria are injected under the skin by the cat’s teeth. Therefore a bite from another cat will, in the vast majority of cases, lead to an infection.

An abscess, which is an accumulation of pus deep in the soft tissues under the skin, will usually develop 2 to 3 days after a cat has been bitten, as the bacteria multiply and the cat’s immune system attempts to fight these bacteria.

What are the signs?

Cat Bite Abscesses are often very painful, and a cat with an abscess can be withdrawn, subdued and off colour. Sometimes they can be grumpy and anti-social, particularly if stroked near the painful area, and some cats will be off their food, especially if they are running a temperature. Depending on the location of the abscess, a swelling beneath the skin may be obvious, and if the abscess is affecting a limb, the cat may be lame or reluctant to move at all. The most common sites for an abscess swelling to develop are:
– the face
– the base of the tail or rump
– a leg or foot

Sometimes an abscess will burst, and pus can be seen leaking from the wound onto the coat. The cat may then lick this area, and it may be possible to detect the characteristically foul-smelling odour of feline pus!

How are abscesses treated?

Pain relief medication and antibiotics are necessary for treating cat bite abscesses. It is also vital to ensure that pus can drain from any abscess, and if an abscess does not burst naturally, it may be necessary for the Vet to sedate the cat (or anaesthetise, depending on the location of the abscess), so that the abscess can be surgically lanced, drained and flushed. The Vet will choose the most appropriate antibiotic for the individual patient, and if this involves a course of oral tablets, it is vital that the antibiotic course is completed and the tablets are given at the correct frequency as directed by the Vet.

How can I stop my cat getting a Cat Bite Abscess?

The reality is that it is impossible to completely eliminate the risk of any cat which encounters other cats, being bitten and developing an abscess. However, there is much you can do to reduce the risk of territorial fighting, and also to reduce the severity of an abscess should it develop.

– Neutering: The most territorial cats are entire, non-castrated males. Therefore, neutering of cats, both male (castration) and female (spaying), plays a vital role in reducing the incidence of fighting. It is not unusual for an entire male cat to bite or be be bitten when mating with an entire female cat, which is another reason why neutering plays an important role in preventing abscesses.
– Vaccination: A healthy cat will recover from an abscess more rapidly, therefore regular vaccination as part of a preventive health programme, tailored to each individual cat, is important. Feline Leukaemia Virus, which we vaccinate against here at the surgery, can reduce the effectiveness of a cat’s immune system, and therefore make abscesses more difficult to treat as well as leading to other more serious health problems. The virus (along with other serious viral infections) can easily be transmitted during fights, another reason why vaccination is important in helping to prevent the more serious consequences of cat fighting.
– Prompt Veterinary treatment: As with so many conditions, the sooner an abscess is diagnosed and treated, the better the response to treatment. The symptoms of an abscess can often be quite vague and mistaken for other conditions. If you are concerned that your cat is showing any of the symptoms described above, or you have reason to believe that your cat has been in a fight, it is important that you bring your cat to the surgery for a check-up, where your Vet can perform a thorough examination and start any treatment if necessary. Your Vet may also want to check your cat for the Feline Leukaemia Virus and the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, more commonly seen in fighting cats and those which frequently develop abscesses.
– Micro-chips and cat-flaps: One effective way to reduce territorial confrontations is to micro-chip your cat and fit a cat-flap which reads your cat’s chip, allowing only him/her to enter your house. This prevents other cats entering your house, the core of your cat’s territory, and therefore reduces the incidence of fighting. Each cat-flap can read more than one micro-chip, useful if you have more than one cat. For more information, do contact us at the surgery or pop in and our staff will explain further.
– Cat repellents: There are products available which can be used around the perimeter of your garden to help repel cats. For more information on these products, contact us at the surgery.

On the whole, abscesses can be treated very successfully and quickly. It is important to remember, as most of us who work with animals know from personal experience, that cats often bite humans as well as other cats! Cat Bite Abscesses can develop in humans too, and so if you are bitten by a cat, it is vital to clean the wound well and seek advice from your vet.