What is an Abscess?
Abscesses are accumulations of pus that usually form as a result of puncture wounds inflicted during cat fights. (real fights or mock fights) There can be causes of abscesses other than cat fight wounds, for example foreign bodies such as grass seeds, splinters etc. It may not always be evident what has caused an abscess until the contents have been released and the cavity in the tissues examined.
How do abscesses occur?
A cat's skin has the ability to heal very quickly. When a tooth or claw from another cat punctures the skin it injects bacteria into the underlying tissues. The small puncture wound then quickly heals over providing the bacteria a warm moist environment to thrive and multiply.
Three to five days later the abscess can be seen or felt as a soft painful swelling under the skin. Not every wound will abscess. Development depends on the extent and the depth of the bite, the number and type of bacteria present in the wound and, most importantly the ability of the victim's immune system to fight off the infection. Apart from local soreness your cat may not show ill effects from the bite wound for some days. However, as the infection worsens, fever, loss of appetite and lethargy may be noticeable. These are symptoms of release of bacteria toxins and by products of dying tissue into the blood stream. The cat can become quite ill.
What are the symptoms of cat abscess?
If your cat has an abscess he will be in a great deal of pain. Suspect your cat has an abscess if:
- There is a sudden loss of appetite.
- Your cat becomes less active. He may sit 'hunched over' for long periods of time.
- He is reluctant to move or play.
- He is reluctant for you to touch him or he is in obvious pain when you touch him.
- He is warm to the touch indicating he may have a fever.
- You may notice a lump or hot inflamed area
- Combined with other symptoms above your cat may begin to limp.
You may not always notice an abscess as the cat's fur can hide it.
What is the treatment for cat abscess?
The abscess may rupture spontaneously discharging thick yellow or brownish foul smelling pus through a hole in the skin. The cat may then feel a lot better and resume eating. If the cat is co-operative, clip away the fur surrounding the wound. Bathe away any discharge and any scab that has formed. Wash with warm salty water or dilute hydrogen peroxide (50/50 10 volume). The more discharge that escapes the better.
If the abscess does not rupture within a day or two it is best to have it opened and drained surgically by your vet. Your vet will drain the pus and remove dying tissue which promotes more rapid healing and resolution of the infection. Your vet will usually insert a surgical drain in the abscess site to allow further discharge to occur over the next few days. Usually antibiotics will be prescribed and the drain removed a few days later.
If you know your cat has been bitten it is advisable to take it to the vet or veterinary hospital for examination. Potentially serious wounds can be treated with antibiotics before they develop into abscess. Early action can often avoid abscesses and expensive complications.
Following a cat fight, inspect your cat for tell-tale painful areas and puncture wounds. Particularly search around the head and neck and forelegs, and on the lower back at the base of the spine. Feel for matting together of tufts of hair or blood at the puncture site. Do not dismiss small holes as insignificant. Apply gentle pressure at the site and judge the cat's reaction for pain. Repeat this test the next day. Increasing soreness is a cause for concern.
Neutering male cats is the most effective method of reducing the incidence and severity of fights. Keeping your cat inside at night will also help prevent fighting.
When to visit the vet
If you know that your cat has been bitten it is best to take it to the vet before an abscess develops. Penetrating bite wounds are almost always infected.
- If your cat is off it's food or in pain.
- If the abscess is extensive.
- If the abscess does not rupture or begin to resolve within 48 hours.
- If the abscess ruptures but is not clearing up within 48 hours or is re-forming.
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Cat First Aid Book - With DVD
Cat first aid Kit
- medical gloves (preferably a few pairs)
- hydrogen peroxide (preferable to alcohol)
- hibitane solution (an antibacterial cleanser)
- gauze, or cleansing pads
- pressure bandage
- vet wrap or bandage
- small first aid scissors and/or grooming clippers
- some 3-6cc syringes (without the needle)
(many of these products can be purchased through a veterinarian or at a local pet store)
The proceeding steps should be taken to care for your cat's cut or wound. It is important, however, to be careful and ensure your own safety first. Even the friendliest cats may unintentionally lash out with teeth or claws due to their own pain and discomfort. It is always helpful to have an extra set of helping hands, so one person can hold the pet as the other tends to the wound (it is best to hold your cat either by the scruff of the neck or with a towel over him, only exposing the wound. In some cases he or she may just be able to be held on your lap). If your well-being is at risk, simply bring your cat to the veterinarian where proper sedation or an anaesthetic may be used if necessary. Some pet's cuts may run much deeper and may be much more painful than they appear on the surface skin.
Should you get scratched or bitten, allow yourself to bleed out somewhat and rinse out the area with cold water and hibitane or an antibacterial wash. Seek the advice of a physician if you are at all concerned, as cat bites and scratches can swell considerably and may become infected.
Steps in Treating a Cat's Wound
- Please put on medical gloves.
- The first step in caring for your cat's wound involves assessing the depth and size of the injury. If the cut is bleeding, largely open, or should the skin be partially flapped over, a pressure bandage needs to be applied (even a towel can be used, but apply a fair amount of pressure). This will need to be done for 2-5 minutes, or until all bleeding has ceased.
- Once the wound appears fairly dry, it is important not to allow a scab to form without first cleansing the area (an infection can form underneath). If one has begun to form already, soaking the area with warm water and hydrogen peroxide will help dissolve it. Gently, the dried skin and scabs can be peeled off. This area may be painful to your cat, so please soak the area first and take the scabs off slowly. If the wound has been there for several days already, do not attempt to take the scab off as the healing process has already begun. Simply keep the area clean. If it seems infected, a veterinary visit may be necessary.
- Gently trimming some of the fur surrounding the wounded area can make it easier for cleaning, as well as it can help keep the area free from unnecessary dirt or infection. Using a grooming set of clippers is easiest, otherwise use a small pair of first aid scissors.
- After the cut has been dried and the scabs have been removed, generously rinse the area with a mixture of water and hibitane solution. This is done easiest by using a needle-free syringe, with which the wound can be directly cleansed and thoroughly rinsed. Do so a number of times.
- If your cat's cut is fairly large, or if it had been bleeding quite profusely, it is best to keep a bandage on the area for a couple of days. You may also bandage it with vet wrap, although this step is unnecessary if the wound is quite small or narrow.
- Cleaning the wound and removing any scabs that form will need to be continued every 12 hours for at least three to four days. Be sure to always apply a fresh bandage at each time, and use a water and hibitane rinse. Hydrogen peroxide can also be used. After the first 48 to 72 hours, the wound can be left uncovered.
- Whenever your pet is feeling unwell or is injured, be sure to keep them indoors. Moreover, if the wounded area does not seem to be healing or if it continues to bleed or becomes infected, please see a veterinarian. Often antibiotics are required for faster and trouble-free healing.
The majority of cat wounds occur in outdoor cats, or to cats who live in a multi-cat home. They are usually the result of a scratch or bite from another animal (i.e. another cat, squirrel, mole, dog, coyote, etc.). Although some fights may result in an open wound, most are probably not even noticeable from the owner's point of view — at least not right away. Often bites from smaller animals, such as from other cats, only puncture the skin's surface and do not cause a tear. Consequently, the small punctures atop the skin quickly close over and an abscess may form underneath. Abscesses are much more common, and are a little different from a regular cut in that they first form under the cat's skin (known as cellulites). The first signs in a cat with an abscess tend to be more symptomatic and less obvious. While they may have pain or tenderness in a certain area, there is no obvious wound. Loss of appetite, loss of weight, lethargy, fever, and malaise are primarily evident. Eventually, however, a lump or external abscess will form, containing pus and inflammatory fluids. If left long enough the abscess will burst, releasing the pus and then will finally allow the skin to heal over.
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