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Cats and Abscesses
McGee, a two-year old tuxedo kitty slipped out of the door. Unnoticed by his owner, McGee quickly vanished under the house. He would resurface two weeks later spouting a huge abscess growing out of his cheek traveling down his neck. Whatever decided to fight him left an impression. McGee was gaunt, unable to eat. He mewed weakly at the door. The worried owner hearing him hustled him inside getting him quickly to her vet. For eight days he wore a circular drain on the side of his face. The swelling wouldn’t recede for two weeks. Bordering on ravenous, his appetite made up for lost time. He would eat anything he could reach.
An abscess is formed when a cat suffers trauma or injury to the skin and develops an infection. A typical cause of an abscess is a cat bite. Once the cat bite occurs, it takes an incubation period for the bacteria to develop underneath the skin creating the abscess. The bacterium localizes creating a swelling full of pus and infection.
Cats teeth contain large amounts of bacteria; Pasteurella, Actinomyces, Propionibacterium, Basteroides, Fusobacterium, Clostridium, Wolinella, Peptostreptococcus, Staphylococcus and Streptococcus. In other words a cat’s mouth is a hotbed of bacteria.
After the bite or trauma, the inflammatory phase will begin immediately but the bacteria migrate slowly to the wound causing the skin to puff up, become painful and forming the abscess. The fluids start to build up under the skin, forming a small lump at first. The hemorrhage continues. Untreated, the abscess continues to swell until the skin splits.
How do I find a cat bite?
Frequent areas of cat bites are the legs, face, base of the tail and the back. If you suspect your cat has an abscess, you can lay the kitty down or approach him when he is resting. Take your hand and hover it above the cat’s skin just about a quarter of an inch. Move your hand slowly (palms down) just over the fur looking for any areas of heat. If you feel the heat, stop and gently push the fur aside looking for the initial bite wound. Bite wounds are extremely hard to find, even veterinarians have difficulty until the abscess forms revealing the trauma site. You can aid your vet by carefully clipping away all the hair in the immediate area. (Hair also carries bacteria into wounds.) Applying warm compresses to the area affected will help to weaken the abscess. It can spontaneously erupt. If not, your vet will need to drain the abscess and administer antibiotics.
What are the signs of an abscess?
Abscesses are not to be confused with cellulitis even though most of the symptoms are the same. The way to tell that it is an abscess is to feel the lump gently. If it is full of fluid, your cat has an abscess.
In McGee’s case, at the vet’s office, he had to be sedated. The abscess was lanced, flushed with an antibiotic solution and cleaned. A circular drain was inserted to catch any extra drainage and allow the wound to stay open. If the wound were allowed to close, a secondary abscess and further complications would have resulted.