News & Advice

Abscesses in Cats

Mar 29, 2022 | Cats, Pet Health

My vet has diagnosed my cat with an abscess. What is an abscess?

An abscess is a “pocket of pus” located somewhere in the body. Abscesses are typically described by where they are located in the body. For instance, a tooth root abscess occurs at the tip of a tooth root, and a subcutaneous abscess occurs under the skin.


Why are cats prone to abscesses?

Most abscesses we see develop after a cat has been in a catfight. This is because once bitten or scratched by the rival, the bacteria from the teeth or claws can cause infection. Cats also have loose skin that is not firmly attached to the tissues under them (subcutaneous tissue).


What does an abscess look like? Is an abscess painful?

Typically, an abscess appears suddenly as a painful swelling (if it is not located inside a body cavity or deep within tissue) that may be firm to the touch or compressible like a water balloon. In the early stages (called cellulitis), the infection can cause extreme pain, and the cat may react aggressively to the area being handled. The abscess may be large or small, will often cause redness if it is under the skin. It also may cause local tissue destruction of the skin on top of it. Some abscesses will rupture, discharging a foul-smelling secretion.


Will an abscess make my cat ill?

A cat with an abscess will often have a fever, even if the abscess has ruptured and drained to the outside of the body. If the abscess is located inside the body (for example, in the liver), a fever would be expected, and there may be the additional complication of a widespread internal infection or bacteria in the bloodstream, particularly if the abscess has ruptured internally.


What causes cat abscesses?

There are many potential causes of abscesses in cats. One of the most common causes is a bite from another animal. The bite injury introduces bacteria into the wound. The wound then becomes infected, and depending upon the bacteria involved; and how deep the bite is, an abscess can result. Penetrating injuries from inanimate objects like sticks and grass seeds can also lead to abscesses, as can having had a previous infection in the site.

Cat abscess on head from a cat bite


Healing cat abscess


Are there any particular risk factors for abscess development?

There are certain tissues and organs that are fairly commonly affected by abscesses. A generalized blood-borne infection may result in a liver abscess. Damage to a tooth may result in a tooth root abscess. A bite wound can result in an abscess under the skin. An inhaled foreign object, or severe pneumonia, may case a lung abscess. Finally, an inner ear infection, severe sinus infection, or infection deep in the mouth can result in a brain abscess.


How are cat abscesses treated?

Abscess treatment depends on the location and how severe the infection is. Most abscesses are treated on an outpatient basis rather than in the hospital. The key is to remove the pocket of pus, either by surgical removal or by draining and flushing. If a foreign object has been the cause of the abscess, it is critical to ensure that it has been fully removed or the abscess will return. Abscesses are painful, so adequate pain relief is an important part of the treatment plan.

Will my cat need antibiotics to help treat its abscess?

Appropriate antibiotic therapy is a critical component of the successful treatment of abscesses, no matter the location. The vet will choose an antibiotic based on the usual types of bacteria involved. The length of antibiotic therapy will depend upon both the bacteria and the location of the abscess. They may also recommend that a pus sample be sent to a referral laboratory to be cultured so that the bacteria involved can be identified and an appropriate antibiotic can be chosen. It is vital to give the antibiotics for the entire time they are prescribed. Your veterinarian may prescribe an appropriate pain medication to be given alongside the antibiotic. Your veterinarian may also talk with you about maintaining adequate nutrition to ensure proper healing, which may involve a temporary dietary modification. Finally, it will be important to restrict activity during recovery to allow the tissue involved to heal properly. If surgery was involved to remove the abscess, keeping the cat quiet and contained is absolutely mandatory.


After my cat has had an abscess, is there any follow-up for my cat that I should be aware of?

While your cat is healing from an abscess, it is crucial to monitor for any increased draining from the abscess site (if the abscess is superficial) or any evidence that the cat is not improving (if the abscess is internal). Avoiding a future recurrence depends on where the abscess occurred and what tissues are involved. For bite wound abscesses, avoid fighting or play-fighting situations that may cause a recurrence.

If I notice my cat has an abscess, can I treat it at home first?

We recommend always having a suspected abscess or weeping wound that is not healing checked by a veterinarian as the infection can worsen quickly. Delayed or inadequate treatment may lead to chronically draining tracts in the tissue or even organ system compromise, such as kidney or liver problems, so it is important to seek advice and follow all treatment instructions from your veterinarian. However, adequate draining or removal of the abscess, followed by appropriate follow-up care and delivery of antibiotics, pain medication, and nutrition, should result in a complete recovery.

If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact your Anexa Vet or Vet Nurse.


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