What are Bite Wounds?
Even the friendliest of cats can get into an altercation with another cat, dog or other domesticated or wild animal. Even cats that have been raised in the same household can occasionally have disagreements over food, toys or a favorite sitting spot and use fangs and claws to settle the dispute. When this happens, bite wounds can occur. It is important for pet owners to realize that, while larger injuries obviously require care, even smaller wounds that appear to be minor can create large health problems if not properly cared for. If your cat has suffered a bite wound you should seek immediate veterinary care, regardless of the severity.
Symptoms of Bite Wounds in Cats
In many cases, it will be obvious that your cat has been in an altercation. Either the owner will be present for the fight or your cat will present with an open wound. In some instances, thick fur can hide larger cuts. Bite wounds can also take the form of punctures with little to no bleeding. In these cases, the only sign of a bite wound may be infection that forms at a later date. Signs that your cat may be suffering from a bite wound include:
- Obvious wound or injury
- Puncture marks on skin
- Reluctance to be touched or held
- Raised bump or abscess at site of previous bite
- Fever from infection caused by improperly wound care
- Loss of appetite
- Lethargy from pain or subsequent infection
Causes of Bite Wounds in Cats
A bite wound typically occurs as a result of a fight or rough play between two cats or your cat and another animal. Cats’ teeth are naturally sharp and are meant to tear easily into flesh. This can make even quick encounters between cats a potentially injurious experience.
Many of a cat’s teeth are dagger-like in their sharpness, causing immediate penetration and then withdrawal. During these quick but penetrating bites, bacteria from the mouth can enter the tissues under your cat’s skin. In wounds that bleed freely and easily, these bacteria have a better chance of escaping. In cases which the wound seals up quickly or is more of a puncture, the bacteria will remain under the skin, causing an infection-filled sac to form. This sac will take the form of a raised bump called an abscess and is the body’s immune response to the foreign bacteria.
Diagnosis of Bite Wounds in Cats
Diagnosis of a bite wound in your cat will rely primarily on physical history provided by the owner. You should discuss with your vet whether your cat has recently been in a fight with another animal. It will be important to note the approximate time frame, and if possible, whether the other animal is up to date on its immunizations. This will allow your vet to rule out the potential spread of other infectious diseases as a result of the bite. If you did not witness the fight, you should let your veterinarian know the approximate timeframe for appearance of any wound as well as whether your cat is an indoor or outdoor cat.
Your vet will next conduct a thorough physical examination of your cat. This will allow your vet to determine the severity of the initial bite wound and to also search for any additional wounds that may be hidden within your cat’s fur. In some cases, it may be necessary to shave sections of the cat’s body in order to provide better access for treatment and to identify any additional wounds. This is especially the case with long-haired cats.
Treatment of Bite Wounds in Cats
Treatment of bite wounds will involve several steps. First, your vet will assess the severity of the wounds. Your vet will attempt to stop any severe bleeding to initially stabilize your cat. Next, the wound will be thoroughly cleaned with an antiseptic wash, alcohol, iodine or other sterilizing substance. This will be another situation in which your vet may need to shave portions of your cat’s fur, in order to provide better access to the bite. In the case of larger wounds, your cat may need stitches in order to allow the layers of skin to heal together properly. Your cat may need to be sedated or anesthetized for this procedure, and will most likely be given oral or injected pain or numbing agents in order to minimize pain and reduce movement during the procedure.
For treatment of abscesses, your vet may choose to lance the area in order to allow bacteria and infection to escape. This will involve medicating your cat for pain and making a quick and small incision along the abscess, then draining the wound of any fluid. The wound area will then be thoroughly cleaned. In some severe cases of either abscess or serious bite wounds, your vet may place temporary drain tubes in the wound, which allows bacteria and fluid to drain as the wounds heal and provides for quicker healing.
Finally, in the case of most bite wounds, your vet will prescribe antibiotics to either prevent infection or to halt the spread of the current infection in the case of an abscess.
Recovery of Bite Wounds in Cats
Recovery and management of bite wounds in your cat will depend on the severity of the initial wound. In non-life threatening cases, your cat should make a complete recovery with proper treatment. If your cat has had stitches or a drain tube, you will need to schedule a follow up procedure in order for these items to be removed part way through the healing process. Allowing the wound to fully heal around stitches or tubes can create additional complications to healing.
You will need to ensure your cat is kept comfortable and quiet to promote healing from a bite wound. Your cat may also need to wear a cone or other appropriate limiting device if they incessantly lick, groom or otherwise irritate the wound site.
Overall, with appropriate follow-up care and adherence to your veterinarian’s prescribed course of medications and wound care, your cat has an excellent chance of a full recovery from their bite wound injury.
Bite Wounds Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Does my cat need stitches? I cannot tell how deep my cat's wound from a dog's bite is. It was deep enough to bleed, began to swell immediately, but is less than 1/2 an inch in length. How do I determine whether she needs stitches?
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