Abscesses from Cat Fights

What is an abscess?

An abscess occurs when an infection is sealed inside the body. Often abscesses occur after a bite wound or other puncture wound, and you may be able to see a small scab indicating where the initial puncture or bite occurred. Common locations for abscesses due to cat fights include face, legs, and the base of the tail.

What does an abscess look like and what symptoms can it cause?

Abscesses can lead to localized symptoms including a pus-filled wound, swelling, redness, and pain or more generalized symptoms such as a fever or lethargy. The wound may puncture on its own releasing a foul-smelling pus. 

How do I know if my cat has an abscess?

Sometimes, the wound may be obvious. Cats will often lick at their wounds, causing fur loss and for the wound to become more visible. Other times, the abscess will remain well hidden beneath their fur and you may only notice something is wrong due to odor or behavioral changes. Occasionally, especially with facial abscesses, there will be a swelling noted around an ear or around an eye that can be soft and fluctuate (due to being fluid-filled).

How do I know when to seek veterinary treatment?

If the abscess does not rupture on its own, the infection seems to be spreading, or your cat is displaying signs of more generalized infection, it is time for a visit to the vet. If the abscess does rupture but is not healing or your cat is not acting normally this is also a reason to seek veterinary care.

What does treatment involve?

Treatment depends somewhat on the severity, age, and location of the abscess. In general, however, the veterinarian will lance, flush, and clean the abscess. In some cases, this process may also involve sedation, surgical debridement, an indwelling drain, and/ or stitches.

Once the abscess has been thoroughly cleaned, you will likely be given antibiotics to administer to your cat at home (your cat may be given injectable antibiotics if oral medications are not an option). Your veterinarian may also instruct you to apply warm compresses to the area in order to help drainage from the wound. In general, the abscess should be mostly healed within a week or so. Call your veterinarian if you notice the infection continuing to spread, new symptoms emerging, or that the wound is failing to heal.

Is there anything else I should know about wounds from cat fights?

Cat fights are particularly problematic because their bite wounds are so likely to cause infections. However, the only infection may not be just from the wound itself. Your veterinarian may recommend testing for feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) or rabies depending on the situation. Particularly if you have a cat that spends time outside, it’s important to keep your cat up to date on their vaccines. Intact cats (NOT spayed or neutered) are also more likely to roam and encounter other animals or cats and engage in fights. Talk to your primary care veterinarian for more information.

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