What are Abscess?
Abscesses arise when the body is unsuccessful in fighting off the underlying infection. An abscess usually has a definitive cause, such as poor dental hygiene, trauma, and injury. An abscess may not be life-threatening on its own, but can develop into a severe condition if left untreated.
Abscesses, usually appearing as pus-filled boils, form when the skin or gums become infected. There are two types of abscess in cats, dental and skin abscesses. Dental abscesses form when bacteria invade the root of a damaged or fractured tooth. Skin abscesses usually occur after an injury, most often a bite from another cat.
Symptoms of Abscess in Cats
Abscesses are painful and, if left untreated, can lead to the development of serious and even life-threatening conditions such as immunodeficiency virus and feline leukemia virus (FeLV). Seek immediate veterinary attention as soon as you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Signs of pain, such as pawing at the abscess
- Loss of hair at the abscess location
- 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
Causes of Abscess in Cats
Abscess is generally caused by injury or infection of the gums or skin. Dental abscesses are typically caused by tooth fracture, damage, or decay. Skin abscesses are generally attributed to fighting activity, but may occur as a result of another form of injury.
Male cats have a higher chance of suffering from abscesses due to their aggressive personalities and tendencies to fight. Indoor cats have a decreased risk of developing abscess compared to outdoor cats for the same reason. Young cats, as well as intact cats and those that have developed abscess in the past, also have a higher risk for forming abscesses.
Diagnosis of Abscess in Cats
Your vet will be able to make a tentative diagnosis following a physical exam based on presentation of symptoms and appearance of boils. Be sure to inform your vet of the extent and duration of your cat’s symptoms, as well as your cat’s outdoor activity and any previous history of abscesses or infection.
The physical examination will usually be sufficient for making a definitive diagnosis. However, your vet may also choose to take a bacterial culture or examine the fluid from the boils using a microscope, particularly if the abscess is difficult to identify. For dental abscesses, your vet may take an x-ray.
Treatment of Abscess in Cats
Treatment will usually involve cleansing or lancing the boil(s) and prescribing an antibiotic regimen. In order to lance the abscesses, your vet will need to sedate your cat and put a drain in place. This is to prevent the wound from closing back up and sealing in the infection.
Antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat the underlying bacterial infection in both skin and dental abscess. Antibiotic treatments for abscess are generally prescribed for three weeks. In some cases, your vet may prescribe pain management medication as well.
For cases of a dental abscess, your vet will resolve the particular issue through root canal, extraction, or saving the affected tooth. They may also recommend dietary changes. Your vet will discuss treatment options for a dental abscess with you based on your cat’s individual needs.
Recovery of Abscess in Cats
Recovery and prognosis will depend on whether or not the abscess has caused a more serious condition. For most cases of abscess, the prognosis is generally good with immediate treatment. Always follow your vet’s post-treatment instructions carefully.
Your cat should begin to improve within a few days of treatment, with complete healing typically observed within two weeks. Do not allow your cat to irritate the drain or the surgery site. An Elizabethan collar may help with this.
If your vet has prescribed antibiotics, it is imperative that you administer the medication for the entire recommended duration of treatment even if the condition starts to improve. Failure to do so could result in aggressive recurrence.
Preventative measures are often advised to avoid future recurrence of abscess. For dental abscess, good dental hygiene is imperative. This involves brushing your cat’s teeth daily, giving them dental treats, and eliminating harmful dental habits such as chewing on hard toys or foods. For skin abscess, it is a good idea to limit your cat’s outdoor activity, particularly if they often engage in fights with other cats.
Your vet will schedule a follow-up appointment within two to five days of treatment in order to remove the drain. However, do not hesitate to contact your vet if the condition does not seem to be improving with treatment, if you notice any swelling around the surgery site, or if the condition recurs.
Abscess Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My cat has had a fight and there's a cut on her head which when cleaned, gives off a foul smell and brownish white puss. Her overall mood is fine but whenever I clean it, it fills straight away. It is smaller than a 5p coin.
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