Cat bites and adscesses


One of the most common reasons for a cat coming into our practice is for a „cat bite abscess‟. We often see two or three cats with bite abscesses every day at our practice. Cats often get into fights and the fight usually ends with one of the cats (usually the one that has lost the fight) getting bitten by the more dominant cat. The bite is often a little tender for a few days and apart from the odd licking of the wound the cat may not show too many signs that there is anything wrong. Cats have a nasty bacteria in their mouths and when they bite they inject these bacteria deep into the skin with their teeth. Over two or three days after they have been bitten these bacteria grow and form pus underneath the skin. A large swelling often forms leading to an abscess. These abscesses are usually very painful for the cat and many people bring their cats in thinking they have been run over by a car as they are in so much pain. It is sometimes more obvious that they have an abscess as they often burst out when the pressure within them becomes too high. They then leak out the pus – you will often notice your cat licking at this or may even notice the awful smell!

Unfortunately cat bite abscesses are not just suffered by cats. Vets, nurses and owners sometimes get bitten by cats and they form nasty abscesses. I know a few Vets who have nearly lost a finger or even a hand due to the bacteria, pus, and toxins that had formed under their skin. When we are bitten by cats in our practice the first thing we do is wash the wound thoroughly with water, antibacterial soap and surgical spirit to hopefully wash out and kill the bacteria before they set up an infection. We also send the staff member to the health centre to ask for a prescription for antibiotics to try and stop the formation of an abscess.

Obviously the way we treat cat bite abscesses in cats is to start them on antibiotics and strong painkillers. It is very important that they get a good course of antibiotics so we inject them with a long acting injection to save the owner having to battle with tablets at home, this we usually repeat after 2-3 days to give them a good course.

However the antibiotics do not penetrate the abscess and dry up the pus very well. The best thing that can happen for the cat is for the abscess to burst open. We can then empty the pus out and this will make it easier to treat with the antibiotics. Sometimes however they do not burst out and antibiotics alone are not enough. In these cases we have to heavily sedate the cat, open the abscess up, drain it and flush it until it is clean. We then often pack it with an antibiotic capsule and give the injections as normal.

Why are cat bite abscesses so common?

Unfortunately they are common because we live in densely populated areas and many of us decide to keep cats. Cats are solitary animals and naturally in the wild they will do anything to avoid other cats. They will take wide berths when passing each other and will often not even enter another cat‟s territory. The more dominant cats will have largerterritories than the others. They will mark the perimeter of it with their urine and will fight for it if necessary. Every group of houses with a number of cats will have a dominant cat (often a male) that will want to defend his territory and will consider any other cats living in the area to be imposters; he will attack them and often bite – this is where the cat abscesses come from.

It is very difficult to prevent your cat getting bitten. If the dominant cat is a non castrated male kindly asking your neighbour to get them castrated may help. Otherwise trying to prevent other cats getting into your garden so your cat can have their own space – for example using „get off your garden‟ granules (which repel cats) around the perimeter of your garden or sprinkling them on your window sills to keep other cats away from your home.

Charlie Carnochan BVM&S MRCVS

(Donview Veterinary Centre)