An abscess forms when an infected bite wound heals over on its surface and traps the infection inside. Fever is generated as the infection incubates. Diseased tissue and the inflammatory cells liquefy into pus. The pus breaks through the overlying surface skin and drains, leading to foul odor, pain, and discharge. The area may or may not heal on its own.

cat infected bite wound

What to Look for at Home

If the abscess has not yet ruptured, the cat will most likely be feverish, which means you will see listlessness and appetite loss. Depending on how long the area has been swollen, the skin involved may be very sensitive to touch and/or fragile. If you look closely, a small scab or hole from the bite may still be visible on the surface of the swollen area.

The fluid pocket will eventually rupture and release foul-smelling pus. The fever may break once the rotten tissue is able to drain. You may not see the sore but you probably will smell it.

cat bite wound on its body

Some cats will lick the fur away from the wound, making the area more visible. At this point, it is likely to look raw and may no longer be actively draining pus. Sometimes the overlying skin is especially fragile and simply tears away leaving a large raw area.

Sometimes the wound is buried in the fur so deeply that it is not apparent. You may only find a tender area and possibly notice the odor characteristic of the underlying infection. 

infected cat wound on its cheek

Common areas for bite wound abscesses include the face, the legs and the tail base. These are the areas where fighting cats tend to bite one another.

If the abscess has not ruptured, it will need to be lanced. Once the abscess is open, it will need to be flushed clean of infected debris. If the abscess is large or especially painful, sedation may be required to accomplish this.

Treatment

Other Important Things

Feline leukemia (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency (FIV) viruses represent serious contagious infections spread by bite wounds. The American Association of Feline Practitioners has guidelines for viral testing.

Testing, accomplished by a simple kit that can be done in your veterinarian’s office, ideally should be done 60 days or more from the time of the bite.

Outdoor cats should be tested annually for these viruses regardless of vaccination status. We recommend testing at the time of the abscess treatment if a test has not been performed in the last year.

This test will not rule out any infection initiated by this bite but will test for any infection from past bites.

If your cat has not been vaccinated for rabies, it is especially important to make sure this vaccine is current. Rabies is transmitted by bite wounds and since there is no effective treatment for either animals or humans, it is important to consider this simple prevention.

Be sure you understand how to give medication, perform hot packing, and manage rubber drains if your pet has them.  Most abscesses heal over the course of a week, though larger abscesses can take longer. If your cat’s abscess is not healed in one week, be sure to notify your veterinarian. 

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