Animals – Cat-bite abscesses

I do love cats, which as a veterinarian is surely a good thing, but with some thought I must say I cannot come up with a single recent feline patient I would describe as ‘amicable’. I’ll go ahead and state that a cat’s nature is so non-amicable and it is their own fault that we see so many cat-bite abscesses in our patients.

Cats are very territorial, and will fight with other neighbourhood cats or feral cats until they’ve managed to establish their boundaries. Note that bite abscesses can also occur from dog, rat, other rodent or even possum bites, but this is far less common. Cat prowling and fights typically occur in the dusk to midnight period. If you find your cat is getting into fights repeatedly, you can consider locking them in the house overnight once they have come in for dinner.

A cat-bite abscess is the accumulation of white blood cells and bacteria just beneath the skin that form a painful pocket of pus. A cats’ sharp teeth easily puncture skin when they bite, introducing a tremendous amount of bacteria. The puncture wounds seal over quickly, and bacteria injected into the skin become trapped. Within around two to four days, swelling and pain develops, along with a fever, which you may notice in your cat as listlessness and a lack of appetite. The cat might also be unusually quiet or aggressive, growling, twitching, repeatedly licking one area, has a floppy tail (where the tail base has been bitten) or mild to severe limping (with leg bites).

If you notice any of these signs, make an appointment with your vet as soon as conveniently possible.

We wouldn’t generally consider it an after-hours emergency, except where the wound is large or your cat is particularly sickly. The abscess will need to be opened, drained and flushed, which may be done by removing the scabs over the original bite wounds or, more commonly, by lancing the skin over the abscess. It may be necessary to sedate your cat for this. Occasionally, where cellulitis is present, drainage is not possible and we can only use antibiotics and anti-inflammatories to clear the infection.

Many an owner recalls hearing the noise of their cat fighting a few days earlier when they present their sore and sickly cat to the clinic. I recommend you thoroughly check for any bites or scratches after hearing such a fight, as getting your feline to us to start antibiotics within 24 hours will usually stop the spread of infection and development of an abscess, avoiding illness in your cat and at a lower cost than lancing an abscess or repairing a wound.

Amicable/’amIkəb(ə)l/ – characterised by friendliness and absence of discord. Similar: cordial, civil, courteous, polite, neighbourly, harmonious, cooperative, non-hostile, peaceable, conflict-free.

Animals - Wellsford Vet Clinic