If your cat has a lump under their skin that is painful and soft to the touch, they probably have an abscess. Abscesses can develop anywhere on the body, even on organs, such as the lungs, brain, liver, or kidneys. Some may not be noticeable until they rupture or the animal shows other clinical signs. In cats, abscesses can lead to blood poisoning and the death of your pet, so they require immediate veterinary attention. You should know what to look for and how to treat an abscess in your cat to keep them happy and healthy.
This article will teach you how to recognize an abscess, what kind of abscess it is, and how to care for your cat at home.
What Is an Abscess?
An abscess is a painful, well-defined purulent collection. They can be found all over the body and can get quite large (the size of a Ping-Pong ball or bigger) or remain small. Some will grow so large that the resulting pocket may burst and the pus will drain out.1 This occurs as a result of the body’s reaction to pyogenic germs (i.e., causing the formation of pus). Pus is a foul-smelling viscous liquid of various colors (white, yellow, or greenish) that contains leukocytes, plasma, living and dead bacteria, proteins, and other organic debris.
Abscesses can have two evolutionary clinical forms: acute and chronic. Depending on the location, abscesses can be classified into superficial and deep.
In cats, two types of abscesses are most common:
- Dental abscess: Located at the base of a tooth
- Skin abscess: Located under the skin2
The infection can occur in cats of any age and breed. Outdoor cats are most prone to abscesses because they are more likely to be injured. Broken windows, sharp metal objects, falls from a great height, and competition with other cats for space, food, or mates are the most common causes of injury.
Cats with weak immune systems are also prone to developing abscesses.3 A weakened immune system makes the body more susceptible to infections. Nursing cats can develop mammary skin abscesses because their kittens may scratch them with their teeth and claws when feeding, inoculating germs.
What Are the Signs of Abscesses?
In cats, abscesses look like small bumps under the skin that grow over time. When they appear in the mouth (in the gums), they can go unnoticed. As they grow, the skin appears to swell, and the abscesses can look like tumors. For this reason, many cat owners panic when they notice a bump or lump on their pet’s skin. But abscesses are more common than tumors.4
If an abscess grows too much, it can burst, and the pus will be drained. This process is called fistulation, which means an artificial channel will be created between the abscess and the skin/gum/organ (depending on where the abscess is localized). In case of skin abscesses, the pus will drain through this channel to the surface of the skin, leading to an unpleasant odor in the infected area.
If an abscess develops inside your cat’s mouth, your pet may have bad breath, become lethargic, and refuse food. Internal abscesses can lead to decreased appetite and lethargy, which are clinical signs that indicate an infection. Systemic infections can cause fevers.
If your cat shows these signs, take them to the vet.
What Are the Causes of Abscesses?
Abscesses develop following the inoculation of pathogenic germs into the skin/oral mucosa/internal organs. They typically occur in cats that frequently participate in altercations with other felines or animals. These abscesses usually develop on the neck and face, the back half of the body, and the abdomen. The tail is often injured too, thus favoring the occurrence of abscesses. Other incidents that can lead to the development of abscesses include penetrating wounds.
- Streptococcus spp.
- Pseudomonas spp.
- Mycoplasma spp.
- Pasteurella multocida
- Corynebacterium spp.
- Actinomyces spp.
- Nocardia spp.
- Bartonella spp.
- Bacteroides spp.
- Clostridium spp.
- Fusobacterium spp.
Dental abscesses are found around diseased teeth. When bacteria gather in excess on a tooth, the gums become inflamed, and gingivitis occurs. If you do not brush your cat’s teeth, plaque and tartar form. If the accumulated bacteria enter the root canal of a diseased tooth, an abscess can develop at the root. Dental abscesses are relatively common in cats, and since the clinical signs are similar to those of other diseases, owners may not realize what is actually happening to their cat.
Internal abscesses are impossible to observe from the outside. They appear due to inflammations, diseases, or foreign objects entering the body. These are less common than skin abscesses but are more severe.
How Do I Care for a Cat With Abscesses?
Before the visit to the veterinarian, monitor your cat’s condition and abscess(es). Do not try to squeeze or burst the abscess yourself, especially if you are not qualified to do so. There is a high risk of rupture of the capsule wall and penetration of pus into the surrounding healthy tissue and blood, which can lead to severe complications.
If the abscess has ruptured, clean the area and trim the surrounding hair. Then, treat it with local antiseptics and antimicrobial ointment (preferably for veterinary use). Be sure to cover the area with a sterile compress. The next step is to take your cat to the vet for an evaluation.
If your cat’s abscess was drained at the clinic, follow the veterinarian’s recommendations as to what you need to do at home. Here is how to care for a cat with abscesses:
- Monitor your cat’s body temperature. If it rises above 102℉ 2–3 days after the procedure, take your cat back to the clinic. A high temperature may indicate that the infection has spread in the body, and there is a risk of septicemia. The vet will prescribe your cat a general antibiotic if they haven’t already done so.
- If there are other animals or small children in your house, you should keep your cat isolated in a quiet place where they cannot be accessed.
- Use an Elizabethan collar. It prevents your cat from licking the wound or removing the dressing.
- Change the dressing, and clean the area daily unless your veterinarian recommends otherwise. Do not use alcohol-based products when disinfecting the area, as these have an irritating effect and can delay healing.
An abscess will show signs of healing when the area is no longer red and swollen and no longer secretes exudate (3–5 days after the procedure). On average, the healing process takes 7–14 days.
Can Cats Heal From Abscesses on Their Own?
Skin abscesses can heal on their own after they rupture and the pus is eliminated. However, you should still take your cat to the veterinarian to prevent possible complications. In the case of dental and internal abscesses, they do not heal on their own. If they remain untreated, they can lead to severe complications.
Can a Cat Survive an Abscess?
In the case of skin abscesses that rupture externally (and the pus is eliminated on the surface of the skin), the chances of a cat dying are incredibly small. Abscesses can cause severe complications or death if the pus gets into the bloodstream, which can cause septicemia (generalized infection). Septicemia can lead to death if not treated in time.
An abscess is a pocket filled with pus that’s separated from healthy tissue by a connective tissue membrane. It can develop due to an infection that penetrates the tissues and leads to an inflammatory process, either by biting (e.g., when cats fight) or piercing (e.g., puncture wound). If the abscess ruptures and the pus gets into the bloodstream, cats can develop septicemia and die. Sometimes, skin abscesses that rupture can heal on their own, but it is recommended to contact the vet as soon as you notice an abscess on your cat’s skin or in their mouth.
Featured Image Credit: Elena11, Shutterstock