Does My Cat Have An Abscess? (and what to do about it)

brown tabby cat laying on floor looking straight into camera

Abscesses in cats are a fairly common ailment. They can be caused by a variety of things, such as a bite, a scratch, or something as simple as a thorn. As a result, many cats will develop an abscess at some point in their life.

However, cat abscesses can also be hard to detect. So how do you know if your cat has an abscess?

Abscesses in cats can be challenging to find as they often hide beneath the surface. Look for signs like swelling, redness, warmth, pain, and behavioral changes. Cats may also be lethargic or have a loss of appetite. Cat abscesses need veterinary care to ensure that they are properly treated and do not lead to life-threatening complications.

In this blog article, we will delve into the world of abscesses in cats, exploring their nature, common causes, and the signs to look out for.

By recognizing the symptoms early and seeking appropriate veterinary care, you can ensure the well-being and swift recovery of your favorite feline.

Introduction To Cat Abscesses

Abscesses are a relatively common problem that can affect cats of all ages and breeds. They occur when bacteria enter the body through a wound, leading to a localized infection. Abscesses can develop in different areas of a cat’s body, including the skin, muscles, and even internally.

In many cases, abscesses in cats are a result of bite wounds inflicted during fights with other cats. Cats are territorial creatures, and these skirmishes can escalate, leading to deep puncture wounds that become infected.

Apart from bite wounds, cats can develop abscesses from other injuries, such as punctures caused by foreign objects like thorns or splinters. Abscesses may also arise from dental infections and gum disease, which can introduce bacteria into the bloodstream and spread to other parts of the body.

It’s important to note that not all wounds or infections will result in abscesses. However, when conditions are favorable for bacterial growth, such as in the warm and moist environment of a puncture wound, an abscess can form.

Cats with abscesses may exhibit behavioral changes, such as increased aggression, hiding, or reluctance to be touched. Physical signs may include swelling, redness, heat, and pain around the affected area. In some cases, a visible wound or pus-filled bump may be present.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a cat abscess is vital for early detection and timely treatment. Untreated abscesses sometimes resolve on their own, but most often they only get worse with time and can even become life-threatening.

In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the identification, causes, treatment, and prevention of abscesses in cats. By gaining a better understanding of these aspects, you’ll be better equipped to provide the necessary care for your cat and ensure their overall well-being.

orange tabby cat and black and white cat play fighting

What Is An Abscess?

An abscess is a collection of pus that is confined to one area. Pus is a thick, yellowish-white fluid that consists of dead white blood cells, bacteria, and tissue debris.

An abscess begins when bacteria enter the body through a wound or other means, causing a localized infection. The immune system responds by sending white blood cells to fight the infection.

As a defense mechanism, the body may wall off the infected area, forming a cavity that contains the accumulated pus. This cavity is what is referred to as an abscess.

Abscesses can vary in size and severity, ranging from small, superficial ones to larger, deep-seated abscesses. They are typically surrounded by inflamed tissue, which causes swelling, redness, and pain in the affected area.

If left untreated, abscesses can continue to grow and cause further complications. The accumulated pus may put pressure on surrounding structures, leading to tissue damage and the potential spread of the infection.

Common Causes Of Abscesses In Cats

Abscesses in cats often have specific causes, with certain factors increasing the likelihood of their development. Understanding these common causes can help cat owners identify potential risks and take preventive measures.

Here are some of the primary causes of abscesses in cats:

  • Bite Wounds: During fights, cats may bite each other, resulting in deep puncture wounds. Outdoor cats or those in multi-cat households are at a higher risk of sustaining bite wounds and subsequent abscesses.
  • Scratches: Like bite wounds, scratches also provide a pathway for bacteria to enter the body. Even superficial scratches can become infected and form abscesses if not treated promptly.
  • Foreign Objects: Cats are curious creatures that explore their surroundings. They can come in contact with sharp objects like thorns, splinters, or broken glass, leading to puncture wounds. If these wounds become contaminated with bacteria, an abscess can form.
  • Dental Infections and Gum Disease: Dental infections and gum disease can cause oral abscesses. They can also introduce bacteria into the bloodstream, which then travel to other parts of the body and cause abscesses in areas distant from the mouth.
  • Ear Infections: Cats with chronic or untreated ear infections are susceptible to developing abscesses in the ear area. These infections can lead to the accumulation of pus and the formation of abscesses within the ear canal or surrounding tissues.
  • Skin Infections: Cats with pre-existing skin conditions, such as allergies, dermatitis, or open wounds, are more prone to developing abscesses. These skin conditions compromise the skin’s barrier function, making it easier for bacteria to enter and cause infections that progress to abscesses.
  • Trauma: Any significant trauma or injury to a cat can result in tissue damage and open wounds. If these wounds become infected, abscesses can develop as a secondary complication.

It’s worth noting that while bite wounds and scratches are a common cause of abscesses in cats, not all abscesses are the result of fights with other animals. In some cases, the exact cause may remain unknown, as abscesses can develop from seemingly minor injuries or bacterial contamination.

grey and white tabby cat peeking out from behind tall green grass

How Can I Tell If My Cat Has An Abscess?

Cats are very good at hiding illness. As well, it can be difficult to spot an abscess that is hidden by the cat’s fur. Often by the time we realize our cat has an abscess, it is already quite advanced and has become a systemic problem.

I will always vividly remember one particular cat that came into my clinic, not too long after I had graduated from vet school. The cat was obviously very sick, and was barely conscious when she arrived.

It didn’t take me very long to find that the cat had a large abscess on the side of her abdomen. Her owner had no idea the abscess was even there! Certainly, it wasn’t visible to the eye, and could only be found by physical exam even though it was quite large by this time.

This abscess had progressed to the point where it was severely impacting the health of the cat. She had a high fever, and her body was struggling to fight off the infection. Fortunately, we were able to successfully treat her and she was soon on her way to full recovery.

The message here is that it can be hard to detect an abscess if you do not know what you are looking for. Here are some common things to look for that can help you determine if your cat has an abscess:

  • Swelling and Redness: Abscesses typically cause localized swelling and redness in the affected area. Check your cat’s body for any abnormal bumps, lumps, or swellings.
  • Heat and Pain: Abscesses are often accompanied by warmth and tenderness in the affected area. Gently touch the area surrounding any swelling or lump and observe your cat’s reaction. If they show signs of discomfort or pain, it may indicate the presence of an abscess.
  • Visible Wound or Pus: In some cases, you may notice an open wound or a small puncture mark in the skin. The wound might be draining pus, which can be yellowish, whitish, or greenish in color. Be cautious when examining the wound to avoid causing additional pain or distress to your cat.
  • Behavioral Changes: Cats with abscesses may exhibit changes in their behavior. They may become more withdrawn, hide in unusual places, or show signs of aggression or irritability. They may also become reluctant to be touched or groomed in the affected area.
  • Lethargy and Loss of Appetite: Abscesses can cause general discomfort and pain, leading to a decrease in energy levels and appetite. If your cat appears lethargic or shows a reduced interest in food, it could be a sign of an underlying abscess.
  • Foul Odor: In some cases, abscesses can emit a foul smell due to the presence of bacteria and decaying tissue. If you notice an unpleasant odor around your cat, it could indicate an abscess.

How To Check Your Cat For Abscesses

Identifying whether your cat has an abscess requires careful observation and attention to their behavior and physical signs

Use your fingertips to check your cat’s entire body for abnormal lumps or swelling. Press gently as you go, noting any area that feels abnormal. Try to get a good look at any suspect area by parting the fur so that you can clearly see the skin.

Gently touch the area surrounding any swelling or lump and observe your cat’s reaction. If they show signs of discomfort or pain, it may indicate the presence of an abscess. They may also become reluctant to be touched or groomed in the affected area.

Look for open wounds or small puncture marks in the skin. Very gently, put light pressure near the suspect area. Open wounds may drain pus, which can be yellowish, whitish, or greenish in color. However, not all abscesses have an opening so not all will have draining pus.

Observe your cat’s behavior. They may become more withdrawn, hide in unusual places, or show signs of aggression or irritability. They may also have a decrease in energy levels and appetite.

Finally, If you notice an unpleasant odor around your cat, it could indicate an abscess is present somewhere on their body.

grey tabby cat sitting in chair to look out the window

What To Do If Your Cat Has An Abscess

Cat abscesses need prompt attention to make sure they don’t worsen and put the cat at risk. If you suspect your cat has an abscess, take them to the vet as soon as possible.

Above all, resist the temptation to squeeze or drain the abscess at home! While it may seem like a logical step to release the pus, improper draining can lead to further infection, spread of bacteria, and potential harm to your cat.

As soon as you suspect an abscess, reach out to your veterinarian and explain the situation. Be prepared to provide details about the location, size, and any visible symptoms of the abscess. Your vet may ask you to bring your cat to the clinic as soon as possible, depending on the severity of the symptoms.

What To Expect At The Vet

Prepare for the Veterinary Visit: Follow any instructions provided by your veterinarian to prepare for the visit. This may include fasting your cat if it is anticipated sedation or anesthesia is required for the procedure. Bring your cat’s medical history, including vaccination records, and any relevant information about recent injuries or incidents that may have led to the abscess.

Veterinary Examination: During the veterinary visit, the veterinarian will conduct a thorough examination of the abscess and assess its severity. They may also examine your cat’s overall health and check for any underlying causes contributing to the abscess.

Abscess Treatment: The treatment options will depend on the size, location, and condition of the abscess. It usually involves draining the pus (which often requires surgically opening it up), flushing and cleaning the area, and prescribing antibiotics or other medications to manage the infection.

Aftercare: Your veterinarian will provide specific instructions for post-treatment care and wound management. This may include administering medications, applying prescribed topical treatments, or providing wound care guidelines.

Follow their instructions diligently to ensure proper healing and prevent complications. Monitor the abscess site for any signs of infection, such as increasing redness, swelling, or discharge, and report any concerns to your veterinarian.

Remember, treating an abscess should be left to veterinary professionals. Attempting to manage or treat an abscess at home without proper knowledge and equipment can lead to complications and delay appropriate treatment.

By working closely with your veterinarian, you can ensure that your cat receives the necessary care to heal the abscess effectively and minimize discomfort.

Conclusion

Abscesses in cats are a common condition that can cause discomfort and potential complications if left untreated. Identifying the presence of an abscess requires careful observation of your cat’s behavior and physical signs such as swelling, redness, pain, and visible wounds.

Remember to avoid attempting to drain or treat the abscess at home, as this can lead to further complications. Instead, follow your veterinarian’s instructions and provide the necessary aftercare to support your cat’s healing process.

While cat abscesses can become severe enough to be life-threatening, the good news is that with proper treatment most cats make a full recovery. With the right care, you can help ensure that your cat is healthy and back to their usual self in no time!

Note: This information is a general guideline and should not substitute professional veterinary advice. Always consult with your veterinarian for specific guidance and treatment recommendations for your cat’s unique situation.

cute bengal kitten laying on grey blanket looking playfully at the camera

Author

  • Dr. Wendy Wilkins, DVM, PhD

    Dr. Wendy Wilkins is an experienced veterinarian and epidemiologist with over 20 years of expertise. She holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and a Doctorate in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Throughout her career, Dr. Wilkins has excelled in clinical practice, academia, research, and regulatory veterinary medicine. She is a respected voice in knowledge dissemination, delivering factual information in a readable and understandable manner through articles, books, and public engagements.

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