Abscesses in Cats

A bite wound abcess is a fairly common occurrence, especially with cats who go outdoors. An abscess results when bacteria invade and infect a cut, scrape, or bite that a cat has received in the course of fighting with another cat or other animal.

Cats that spend time outdoors are at greater risk for developing an abscess because of their exposure to other cats. When a cat is bitten by another cat, the area can abscess quickly. Additionally, a bite wound can expose your cat to contagious diseases called retroviruses from other cats. The most common retroviruses are feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Both viruses cause serious fatal diseases and are easily transmitted through bite wounds. is a great resource to learn more about these diseases and how you can keep yourself healthy.

The area may become swollen, be sensitive to the touch, and develop a bad odor; also, there may be a discharge of pus from the site. Your cat may stop eating, or may act lethargic or depressed, which are all signs of fever.

Abscesses can be very serious if left untreated. The abscess must be lanced, drained, and cleaned and, because an abscess is an infection, your cat may need antibiotics and pain-relief medications.

Additionally, your veterinarian may want to test your cat for feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus—since both of these viruses are transmitted from cat to cat and are highly contagious.

If your cat must undergo general anesthesia to have the abscess drained and cleaned, your veterinarian may also recommend preanesthetic tests to ensure your pet is healthy and can tolerate the anesthetic procedure.

These may include:

  • Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver, and pancreatic function, as well as sugar levels
  • A complete blood count (CBC) to rule out blood-related conditions
  • Electrolyte tests to ensure your cat isn’t dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance
  • An FeLV test to identify if your cat has feline leukemia
  • An FIV test to identify if your cat has contracted the feline immunodeficiency virus
  • Cardiac tests to rule out heart-related issues

The best way to prevent your cat from getting abscesses is to check him daily for wounds, especially around the neck and head area, where cats have difficulty grooming. If you notice a cut or wound, contact your veterinarian staff so they can advise you regarding the best treatment for your feline friend.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Causes of Cat Abscesses

The most common types of abscesses in cats are in the mouth and under the skin but abscesses can pop up almost anywhere in or on a cat. Abscesses are usually described by where they appear in the body and are caused by various bacteria including E. coli, certain Streptococcus species, Pseudomonas, Mycoplasma, Pasteurella multocida, Corynebacterium, Actinomyces, Nocardia, Bartonella, Bacteroides, Clostridium, and Fusobacterium.

  • Dental abscesses: Characterized by being inside the mouth, dental abscesses are found around diseased teeth. When bacteria builds up on the surface of a tooth, the gums become inflamed which leads to gingivitis. If this bacteria doesn't get removed from tooth brushing or a professional dental cleaning, it continues to stick to the tooth, gathers saliva and food debris, and forms plaque and calculus. This can cause abscesses under the gumline. If that bacteria also gets into the root canal of a broken or diseased tooth, such as one with a resorptive lesion, it can cause a tooth root abscess.   Dental abscesses are common in cats but may be difficult for the average cat owner to notice.
  • Bite wound abscesses: In order for a cat to develop a bite wound abscess it needs to be bitten by another animal. This is why bite wound abscesses are most common in cats that spend time outdoors. When a cat gets bit, bacteria enters the wound and an abscess begins to form.   These are seen under the skin of cats as lumps and usually aren't noticed by the cat owner until they rupture and begin to ooze pus. Theses abscesses may feel hot to the touch as well as cause skin inflammation.
  • Internal abscesses: Unable to be seen from the outside of a cat's body, internal abscesses occur on the internal organs from inflammation, disease, and foreign objects. These are far less common than bite wound and dental abscesses in cats but still occur.

Feline Abscesses: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Background: Feline abscesses are common feline wounds encountered in small animal practice and occur when normal or opportunistic organisms are inoculated into the skin. An abscess is a localized accumulation of pus which is composed of inflammatory cells and the infectious organism(s) contained within a cavity. There are several factors that put cats in situations that increase the risk of acquiring an injury that can lead to an abscess. These risk factors include: intact male cats permitted to roam outdoors, multi-cat households, and maintained feral cat populations. In addition, certain patient characteristics may predispose a cat to abscess development. These include immunosuppression from medications, feline leukemia virus infection, feline immunodeficiency virus infection, diabetes mellitus, chronic renal failure, and hyperadrenocorticism.

Pathogenesis: Abscesses may form when a causative organism is inoculated into the skin and subcutis. This occurs from bite wounds, trauma, or hematogenous spread of a systemic infection to the subcutis. Bite wounds from cat to cat fights are most common, and oral flora is the source of bacteria recovered from fight wound abscesses. It is known that healthy cat mouths contain obligate and facultative anaerobic bacteria, and Pasturella multocida has been isolated from the nasopharynx of healthy cats. Traumatic injury from foreign object such as a stick or plant material may also inoculate an agent not normally found on feline skin into the subcutis.

Introduction of an organism into the subcutis disrupts the microenvironment. If the injury is from a cat fight, the puncture wound heals quickly often without the injury being recognized. Bacteria then have conditions in which to flourish. The host mounts a systemic inflammatory response against the foreign bacteria resulting in abscess formation and clinical signs. With inflammation, purulent exudate accumulates, and, if not resorbed, a fibrous capsule forms. Continued production of pus within this closed nonexpansile cavity results. Increased pressure within the contained space ultimately leads to a ruptured abscess. If the abscess does not rupture, granulation tissue develops within the cavity and the organism then has an environment in which to persist. A persistent organism explains the intermittent swelling and/or draining tracts one may see clinically.

Organisms involved in feline abscesses: As mentioned, abscesses often result from cat to cat bites. Such abscesses are often a polymicrobial infection. There appears to be synergy between oral flora bacteria under abscess conditions and this may result in the overgrowth of more than one pathogen. For example, P. multocida is often isolated with Porphyromonas spp. The anaerobic primary pathogen may be isolated with or without aerobic bacteria. Anaerobic bacteria may not be isolated from culture samples collected from a ruptured abscess, even if there is cytologic evidence to support an anaerobic infection. When an abscess ruptures, conditions for growth and survival change. The conditions that permitted growth of the anaerobe in a closed abscess may no longer be favorable for growth once ruptured. Therefore, cytology and culture results can differ.

Aerobic bacteria that have been isolated from feline abscesses include P. multocida (most common), Staphylococcus spp., Streptococcus spp., members of the Enterobacteriaceae family, and Pseudomonas spp. Anaerobic bacteria that have been isolated from feline abscesses include Fusobacterium spp., Bacteroides spp., Porphyromonas spp., Prevotella spp., Peptostreptococcus spp., Clostridium spp., and Actinomyces spp. Other organisms have been reported to cause feline abscesses and some of these agents include Nocardia spp., Mycobacteria spp., Stemhylium sp., Cladosporium sp., Exophiala spinifera (dermatiacious fungus), Yersinia pestis (plague), Mycoplasma, Mycoplasma-like bacteria (ie L-form bacteria), and Corynebacterium equi.

History and clinical signs: For cat bite abscesses, cats are commonly presented for a rapidly appearing painful swelling. Lesions often occur under the fur on the caudal ventral abdomen, face, ventral neck, tail, shoulder, trunk and limbs sites commonly bitten during fighting. Lesions are characterized by swelling, pain, heat, purulent discharge if ruptured, malodor, erythema, and perhaps loss of function. The mass-like lesion may be fluctuant to firm with or without soft pockets. The abscess is often surrounded by moderately erythematous skin and may have fistulous tracts. Depending on the causative agent, nodules or furuncles may be present. Abscesses illicit a systemic inflammatory response, so signs including fever, lethargy, anorexia, hiding, aggression and limping may be seen. If the injury penetrated a body cavity, resulting in an intracavity abscess, signs of sepsis may be present. There may be clinical signs attributable to an underlying primary disease, so complete history and examination are warranted in all cases.

Diagnosis: History, clinical signs and a battery of diagnostic tests serve to evaluate the patient. A complete blood count, serum biochemistry, urinalysis and FeLV-FIV tests may be recommended.

Cytology should be the initial test performed upon presentation, as it provides valuable information and may serve to eliminate several differentials in a short period of time. Samples may be obtained for cytologic evaluation via fine needle aspiration or by swabbing exuded purulent discharge. Samples should be placed upon a clean glass slide and initially stained routinely with DiffQuik®. Examination using light microscopy under oil immersion (1000x) may reveal intra and extra-cellular organisms, neutrophils, macrophages, keratinocytes, or no organisms at all. Additional stains may be performed and could include acid fast staining for Nocardia spp., or periodic acid Schiff staining (PAS) for fungal elements. Sampling an open tract or old surface discharge may only yield secondary contaminants.

Because abscesses are a deep infection, cultures and susceptibility tests are indicated. I recommend aerobic and anaerobic, fungal culture, and atypical mycobacterial culture. For culture, material collected using aseptic technique via fine needle aspiration is appropriate as is tissue collected via punch or excisional biopsy for maceration tissue culture. Less desirable specimens may be obtained from under a crust. Exudate from an open draining tract may result in growth of contaminants and misquide therapy choices.

Biopsy for dermatohistopathology evaluation may be indicated. Standard punch-biopsy technique is adequate or excisional biopsy may be performed. Sedation or general anesthesia may be required. Results should give a morphologic description and an etiologic diagnosis. If no etiologic diagnosis is reached, dermatohistopathology is still useful to for identification of the disease pattern and to eliminate differentials. The dermatohistopathologist may perform special stains if the histologic pattern is consistent with a particular infection. Special stains may include PAS, acid fast or a silver stain.

Treatment Surgery: Minor surgery is typically indicated in the management of feline abscesses. The goal is to establish and maintain drainage, remove the nidus of infection, and to remove any foreign material if present. One must first consider the health status of the patient, the site of the abscess, and the temperament of the pet in developing the surgical plan. The hair coat surrounding the lesion should be clipped widely and the entire cat should be evaluated for puncture sites and other wounds. The surgical sites should be prepared for aseptic surgery and sterile drapes and sterilized instruments should be used. Once the site is aseptically prepared, the surgeon makes a stab incision into a dependent soft or fluctuant aspect of the abscess. The abscess is evacuated and copiously flushed using sterile saline. Debridement may be required depending on the integrity of the tissue. Extension of the stab incision may be needed to permit continued drainage. Larger abscesses may require more extensive surgery or placement of a drain to facilitate repetitive flushing procedures and/or drainage. Basic nursing care should be instituted following surgery. Bandaging, placement of an Elizabethan collar, and use of warm compresses ensure a favorable surgical outcome. The pet should be restricted from outdoor activity during recovery. If the abscess was determined to be from a cat fight, then permanent restriction from going outside decreases the risk of another occurrence.

Antimicrobial therapy: Selection of antibiotic therapy should be based upon standard principles of antimicrobial usage. The choice of antibiotic should be effective against the probable organism and be known to reach the site of infection. Because abscesses are deep infections, selection should ultimately be based upon culture and antibiotic susceptibility testing. The antibiotic should be bacteriocidal, broad spectrum, and effective against aerobic and anaerobic bacteria if known to be a cat bite abscess.

Pending assessment of antibiotic susceptibility testing results, there are several appropriate antibiotics suitable for first-line usage. Amoxicillin-clavulanic acid, some cephalosporins and clindamycin are good initial choices. Treatment adjustments may be needed based upon antibiotic susceptibility test results.

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Have you experienced an abscess on your cat or dog? If you have, then you know that they can kind of sneak up on you. One day “Lucky” is playing and energetic and the next he’s lethargic, lame, and seems almost depressed. When you start running your hand over his body you might find a area that is raised and warm and when touched your pet will pull away or look at you funny like he’s saying “hey, that hurts!”

One of the possible reasons for the swelling is an abscess – a pocket of pus that has built up in defense of bacteria from a puncture wound, foreign material, insect bite, or parasite under the skin. As a defense mechanism your animal’s body produces lots of white blood cells to fight the bacteria. As the white blood cells die off the pus forms. Eventually the skin becomes thin and ruptures allowing the pus to disperse and healing to start in the area. But that doesn’t always happen. The abscess can get large and very painful and will need treatment from a veterinarian.

Cats are especially prone to abscesses. During a cat fight if a deep scratch or bite wound is inflicted on your cat the outside of the wound will tend to form a scab quickly. Unfortunately, the scab seals in the bacteria and sets up the perfect conditions for an abscess.

Abscesses need to be drained in order to heal. A trip to the veterinarian is the safest for a couple reasons. First, the abscess can be evaluated to determine the extent of the infection and whether surgery is necessary to remove dead tissue and place multiple drains to allow the wound to heal. Secondly, antibiotics will most likely be necessary to get rid of the bacterial infection. Once the abscess is drained your pet will start feeling better very quickly since the pressure has been relieved and the infection cleaned out. To keep “Lucky” from scratching or licking the area an Elizabethan collar may be required, depending on the location of the wound.

If your cat has been in a fight, examine him thoroughly from head to toe to locate any puncture wounds or deep scratches as these usually require antibiotics from your veterinarian to alleviate possible infection. At home you will be instructed to clean the wounds and watch for any signs of infection. Place warm compresses on these areas 10-15 minutes 3-4 times per day to decrease the chances of an abscess forming. The compresses increase blood flow to the area which increases the immune response. If an abscess is immediately adjacent to the eye, the anus, or the genitals, or inside the ear don’t try to treat at home. Get your pet to the veterinary hospital right away.

The moral of the story…a drained abscess equals relief.

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Watch the video: How to treat a cat abscess bite at home (October 2021).

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