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Everything you need to know about cat abscess

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An abscess is not a nice experience for a cat. Some can even lead to other health issues. The key is to treat them quickly. Here’s what you need to do with a cat abscess. An abscess is a symptom of an underlying bacterial infection.  They're caused by a build-up of pus, which is a collection of bacteria, serum and white blood cells. An abscess will appear as a soft and painful lump just underneath the skin.

By Ashley Murphy

Where do cats get abcesses? 

Abscesses form anywhere on the body, although the common abscess "hotspots"  are the head, neck, mouth, and hindquarters. Some will be easy to spot, but you may miss others; this often depends on the fluffiness of your cat and how receptive they are to cuddles and strokes.

Why do cats get abscesses? 

Cats are particularly prone to abscesses. As Dr Ari Zabeel explains: “Abscesses often have two causes that are fairly specific to cats. One, that they tend to fight each other with their very sharp teeth and nails, which can quickly and easily puncture skin; and two, a cat’s skin heals quickly. After a puncture wound from a fight with another cat, their skin tends to heal over the wound and trap bacteria introduced by the bite or scratch."

Once a bacteria gets inside your cat, it quickly starts to multiply. The body's immune system then send some white blood cells to attack the nasty invaders. The white blood cells ingest the pathogens and break them down with enzymes. The white blood cells then die. The more this happens, the more gunk builds up under the skin. With nowhere else to go, it forms together into an abscess.

What else causes abscesses in cats?

An infected puncture wound is the most common cause of an abscess. This puncture wound could be caused by an accident, although it’s more likely to come from a cat fight. Cats are quite territorial and will often catfights to establish dominance. A bite or scratch can ealisly become infected. However, it could be related to a dental infection or an allergic reaction to certain types of medication. The hard lump just under the surface of the skin in the most signs, but they can be other symptoms. These include:  

  • Signs of pain, such as pawing at the abscess or limping
  • Loss of hair at the site of the abscess
  • Bad breath
  • Swelling of the face or gums
  • Red, swollen, or inflamed skin
  • Pus or blood on the skin
  • Excessive itching
  • Bleeding gums
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drooling
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Treating an abscess

Any abscess needs to be treated by a vet. The first thing they'll do is lance the abscess so they can drain out the pus. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. You could end up doing some serious damage to your cat. Depending on the size of the abscess, your cat may need a general anaesthetic followed by a short hospital stay.

Once the abscess has been "popped" and cleaned out, your vet will probably prescribe a short course of antibiotics. These will deal with the underlying infection, and prevent any new bacteria from getting into the wound. 

The prognosis for an abscess is usually very good. In fact, most cats make a full recovery within a few weeks. In the meantime, keep a close eye on your pets. Follow any medical advice from your vet, including their instructions on how to prevent your cat from scratching or pawing the wound and general wound care If you don't see any improvement within a few weeks, your cat will need to see the vet again. 

Treating a cat abscess and preventing abscess formation

When it comes to abscesses in the mouth, maintaining good dental hygiene is key. Get into the habit of cleaning your cat's teeth a few time each week. You can also purchase specially designed dental treats. 

Most abscesses are caused by secondary infections from scrapes and scratches from fighting with other cats.  Locking up your kitty 24/7 isn't really an option, but you can certainly try and manage their outside time. If your cat tends to scrap at certain times with certain cats, then try switching up their routines. Otherwise, give your cat a quick once-over every few days. If you notice any scratch or puncture wounds, give them a really good clean.

Abscesses are a fairly common issue with cats. They're also pretty gross! Luckily, most of them can be treated quickly and effectively, especially if you catch them early on. If left untreated, the abscess will only grow, filling up with more gunk! This can lead to other symptoms, some of which can be very dangerous to your cats long and short-term health.
Larger abscesses may also require surgery and an extended hospital stay. This is going to be very distressing, and probably quite expensive. So focus on prevention and early detection! Get into the routine of checking your cat, keeping n eye out for wounds, scrathes, or a cat bite that could lead to an infection.