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What is a cat abscess?

An abscess is a painful accumulation of pus, caused by a bacterial infection and usually found under the skin in cats.

Cats most often develop an abscess due to being scratched or bitten by another cat. Cat’s teeth and claws carry nasty bacteria that often lead to infected wounds or abscesses if they are fighting. Their needle-like teeth and claws introduce bacteria into their opponent’s body when they fight, causing an infection to build up and form a collection of pus at the site of the bite wound.

The most common areas affected are the tail, top of the head, legs, face, and neck. Cat bites and scratches can also spread diseases such as Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) and, Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

Neutering your cat is the most effective way to reduce fighting and therefore cat bite abscesses.

Signs of an abscess in a cat

Cat abscess symptoms can be quite vague at first, with your cat showing signs such as:

  • Pain
  • Small wounds (bite marks)
  • A reduced appetite
  • Fever (feeling hot to the touch)
  • Lethargy (your cat may seem subdued and be lacking in energy).

After two to four days, the following signs may be seen as the abscess develops:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Large wounds if the abscess has burst
  • A painful or floppy tail if the top of the tail has been bitten
  • Lameness (this can be mild or severe) if the leg or foot has been infected
  • Pain (aggression, growling, licking an area repeatedly, being quiet and subdued).


Is a Cat Abscess an emergency?

A cat bite abscess is not classed as an emergency in most cases, although it can be unpleasant and painful. If your cat seems in pain, is very lame, off its food, or seems unwell then it is always worth contacting your local Animal Trust Surgery for advice and/or an appointment.

Occasionally abscesses can lead to huge wounds as the abscess bursts, and/ or cause an infection that spreads around the body via the bloodstream, making the cat very unwell. Because of the vague symptoms early on and the potential for serious complications in certain cases, seeking veterinary advice is important.

How to treat a cat abscess

Treatment for an abscess depends on the severity, size, and location of the infection and whether your cat is unwell.

We do not recommend trying to pop or lance an abscess at home as this could hurt or even injure your cat, especially if the abscess is close to nerves, blood vessels, joints, or bones.

Your vet may lance and flush the abscess to drain the pocket of pus. This will usually be carried out under sedation to relieve the pressure and make your cat feel more comfortable.

If the abscess has already burst, then clipping the hair away from the wound and flushing it with salt water (1 teaspoon per pint of warm water) will help to remove the pus and allow it to heal.

Your cat may require a collar to prevent them from licking the wound while it heals as this can do more harm than good.

Your cat will also require pain relief, usually prescribed in the form of anti-inflammatories to reduce the pain and inflammation. NEVER use paracetamol in cats.

Depending on the location and size of the abscess, antibiotics may be prescribed. These are not always necessary; your vet will advise you.

Most abscesses will heal within 1-2 weeks. Some may require further treatment due to location or size.

Abscess wounds cannot be stitched closed as this will trap the infection inside. Dressings may be required for certain wounds (lower legs, large wounds over the neck).

Will a cat abscess heal on its own?

Left untreated, some abscesses will burst and heal naturally. Unfortunately, some cases will develop serious consequences such as pyothorax (pus in the chest cavity), septic arthritis (infection in the joint), and tissue necrosis (where the blood supply to the skin or muscle is affected and the tissue dies). Either way, your cat would be in significant pain during this time so veterinary advice is always recommended.


If you think your cat may have an abscess, receive expert advice on how to treat it at Animal Trust. Book a free consultation today.

Further Reading

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