Cat Bite Abscesses

Alison Laurie-Chalmers, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets Inverness.

Cats are extremely territorial animals which means that they may fight with each other over their established territory.  Cat’s teeth are covered in bacteria, so if they bite each other it is very likely that an infection will develop in the traumatised tissue area. This very often leads to a painful abscess forming under the skin. The most common areas for a cat to be bitten include the ears, head, face, neck, tail-head and legs. Cat bite abscesses do cause pain; sometimes a high temperature and can often make a cat feel very unwell. They usually respond quickly to veterinary treatment but the bites can also put a cat at risk of catching certain diseases. Although rare, cat bites can spread diseases such as: Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV). So it is very important to keep your cat up-to-date with their Booster vaccinations to protect them against the Feline Leukaemia virus (FeLV).

Entire male "Tom" cats are especially territorial; therefore, neutering may reduce the likeliness that a male cat will fight. However, it will not completely eliminate the occurrence of fighting, as neutered cats both male and female may still quarrel leading to infected bite wounds, however neutering is still advised and will certainly help.

It usually takes two to four days for an abscess to develop after a cat fight bite wound. Signs and symptoms of any infection include:

  • Not eating or eating less than usual
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Swelling, redness and heat in the area
  • A floppy tail – if the tail-head area has been bitten
  • Limping
  • Pain (pain symptoms are: being quiet, aggressive, licking at one particular area a lot, growling, twitching, or not letting you touch them).
  • If the abscess has already burst, you may notice pus from the wound and a foul smell

If you see what you suspect to be a bite wound on your cat, bathe the area gently with salt water (one tablespoon in a pint of tepid water) and take your cat to your vet as soon as possible, who can then start any treatment required. If your cat develops an abscess in the bite wound area your vet may need to arrange for sedation to lance the abscess, drain it and flush it out. A course of antibiotics is usually given to clear up the infection and anti-inflammatory and pain relief treatments are also given. Left without any treatment, cat bite abscesses have the potential to cause serious ongoing health issues.

Your vet will advise you on how to look after the abscess wound after it has been treated. With appropriate treatment bite wounds usually heal within a week or two without causing any ongoing problems. Contact your us if the abscess isn’t healing after treatments, or if you are worried. 

If you notice any painful bite wounds or any of the symptoms listed above, it is always best to contact your vet surgery for an appointment.

Cat bites and scratches can also cause serious infections in people. So always seek medical advice from your doctor as soon as possible if you have been bitten or scratched by a cat.