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feline health problems

Abscesses in cats: Here’s what to do

Have you noticed a red or painful swelling on your cat’s body? It might be an abscess.

Updated October 1, 2021

Created By

Victoria Lancaster,

The essentials

  • An abscess is a pocket of pus that can form on your cat’s body — There are different kinds of abscesses that can appear on your cat’s mouth or on their skin.
  • There are some common symptoms that arise along with a cat’s abscess —  Look out for signs like a fever or general signs of pain.
  • Bites are one of the most common causes of abscesses —  Make sure to closely monitor your cat when they’re outdoors or around other areas.
  • Leaving an abscess untreated can be life threatening —  If you think your cat has an abscess, get them to the veterinarian for treatment right away.

What’s an abscess? 

Abscesses are small sacs of pus that form under a cat’s skin after exposure to bacteria. They are most commonly a result of a cat who has been bit or scratched by another animal. Abscesses are essentially inflammation caused by infection. As the infection grows, the pus continues to build in the sac. An abscess is the body’s way of walling off the infection from the rest of the body.

Abscesses can be fairly common and, if caught early, fairly benign. It’s extremely important to be able to identify them for early treatment. This will prevent your cat from experiencing other negative health consequences. You should also note that abscesses can be incredibly painful for cats. Male and female cats can both develop abscesses.

What does an abscess look like?

Abscesses can appear differently depending on the area they form on the body. They typically cause redness to the affected area and feel firm or inflamed to the touch. They can be big or small, and as a cat’s infection progresses they tend to get larger. We should warn you that abscesses can have a fairly alarming appearance.

👉 A cat abscess could look like this after a fight.

You may notice that your cat’s abscess smells. This means it may have burst, the discharge carrying with it a bad smell. It’s possible you didn’t even realize your cat had an abscess before it burst and started to smell. It’s important to look out for accompanying symptoms, since abscesses can sometimes hide underneath the skin or even inside a cat’s body.

How to identify an abscess based on accompanying symptoms

There are a variety of symptoms that may arise if your cat has an abscess:

  • Signs of pain, such as limping or pawing at the affected area
  • Fever, especially if located inside the body
  • Red, swollen or inflamed skin
  • Excessive itching or licking at the area
  • Pus or blood on the skin
  • Loss of hair at the site of the abscess
  • Swelling of the face and gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Bad breath
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drooling
  • Lethargy

👉 It’s extremely important to look out for symptoms of an abscess, especially fever. Your cat could have an abscess inside of its body that ruptures and spreads the infection to the organs. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should take your cat for a vet visit right away.

What causes an abscess?

An abscess is the consequence of an infection from an open wound. These infections have a few potential causes.

1. A bite from another animal

This is probably the most common cause of a cat’s abscess. If your cat often hangs around other cats, lives in a multi-cat household, or goes outdoors, they could get a bite from another animal. When a bite wound becomes infected by bacteria, an abscess can form.

2. Injuries

Has your cat knocked themselves on a sharp object around the house or outside? Wounds caused from various injuries can also turn into abscesses, especially if they go unnoticed. Abscesses can also form if your cat repeatedly licks their wound. If your cat has an injury of any sort you should take them to the vet for early treatment.

3. Tooth fracture

Sometimes, abscesses present themselves in a cat’s mouth. This is likely due to a tooth fracture which exposes tissue inside the teeth. Bacteria can get inside the tooth and form a tooth root abscess.

4. Puncture wound

While more unlikely, your cat can develop internal abscesses, like stump pyometra and pancreatic abscesses. These abscesses often don’t appear on the skin and are invisible to the eye. They are extremely dangerous, however, and can spread to cause internal bodily infections.

5. Underlying illness

Some cats may be more prone to abscesses, like felines who are immunocompromised. These include cats with:

Never leave an abscess untreated 

You should never let an abscess heal on its own. Leaving an abscess untreated can cause potentially life threatening consequences for your cat. The inflammation of an abscess can spread, causing more abscesses to form. In even worse cases, the infection can spread to the bloodstream, becoming life-threatening.

How abscesses are treated

First, you need to get your cat to the vet if they have an abscess. Then, you may have to administer medication or other remedies to your cat at home.

Once you’re at the vet

The vet will clean the area and decide on the best way to treat the pocket of pus on your cat. The abscess will usually need draining or lancing to extract the sluid. Sometimes, this will be done surgically. If your cat has an abscess of the mouth or tooth, they may need to have a tooth extraction or a root canal. These extraction processes will require your cat to go under general anesthesia.

🚨 You should never attempt to lance, drain, or remove a cat’s abscess at home. If you think your cat has an abscess, always take them to the vet immediately.

Medication

After your cat’s abscess is addressed, they’ll likely need an antibiotic. These medicines are typically oral or injectable and depend on the type of bacteria present in the abscess. The vet will take a culture to identify the type of bacteria causing infection.

Bacterias causing abscesses can include Staphylococcus, Escherichia coli, certain Streptococcus species, Pseudomonas, Mycoplasma, Pasteurella multocida, amongst others. Antibiotics will help to completely get rid of the infection. Your cat will probably need to take these meds for a couple of weeks. The vet may also give your cat anti-inflammatories to deal with pain.

Healing sprays and at-home remedies

Wondering if there’s something you can do before you go to the vet? Some sprays are safe to use at home for immediate irritation relief. Cool compresses are also a great way to keep your cat’s pain levels at bay. You may notice your cat still has some discomfort in the area of the skin where the abscess formed. If the vet says it’s okay, you can also use this spray from Vetericyn Plus for relief after surgery.

🚨 Don’t use at-home products in place of a vet visit.

Abscess prevention

Preventing your cat from getting abscesses is a matter of both keeping a close eye on your cat and making sure they’re always clean. You can follow some of the following steps to prevent future abscesses:

  1. Keep an eye on your cat when outdoors.
  2. Make sure cats get along in a multi-cat home.
  3. Brush your cat’s teeth, cut their nails, and practice good hygiene to prevent bacteria, infection or viruses from spreading.
  4. Make sure your cat is up to date on vaccines, like the rabies vaccination.

A note on outdoor cats

If you let your cat loose outdoors, you should be particularly aware of abscesses. When they roam on their own, they are more likely to come into contact with unwanted predators or dangers. If you do let your cat roam, make sure they’re in a safe and contained area.

Frequently asked questions 

Should I let my cat lick or scratch their abscess?

You may notice your cat licking or cleansing their abscess in pain or discomfort. It can be harmful for them to touch the affected area because it can cause further irritation or spread of bacteria. Try other remedies as opposed to letting your cat soothe their abscess himself. If you’ve seen a cone or an inflatable collar on a cat before, it may be because they have an abscess. Cones prevent cats from irritating their abscess.

How much does it cost to treat an abscess on a cat?

Surgeries to remove abscesses can be relatively pricey, costing up to a few hundred dollars. Investing in insurance for your cat’s healthcare could be worth considering. As always, you should take into account potential health costs before becoming a cat owner.

Is an abscess an emergency for my cat?

An abscess on a cat doesn’t have to be an emergency, but it should warrant immediate attention. The good news is, that when treated properly, cats will recover from the effects of their abscess within several days or a couple of weeks.