What is a cat fight abscess and how do they occur?
As the name suggests cat fight abscesses are caused by cat bite wounds. When cats fight their bites can result in deep but superficially small punctures wounds that heal quickly on the surface but can leave bacteria trapped underneath the skin. This bacteria can then cause infection resulting in a localised, painful swelling that is full of pus. A cat fight abscess usually takes two to three days to form. The location can be just under the skin or deep in the muscle and other underlying tissues. If the bite penetrates a joint this can result in a septic joint or bone infection.
Affected cats will resent being touched over the abscess as they are very painful. Your cat may also be feeling unwell, not interested in food and feeling warm to touch. If the abscess bursts you may notice a reddish brown smelly discharge from the wound and there may even be an open wound.
With any cat bite your pet can be infected with one or both of two incurable viruses. Feline Leukaemia virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). These viruses can be diagnosed with a simple blood test at our clinic. Please discuss this with one of our Vets.
If a cat fight wound is treated early, within the first 24 hours of the fight, many cases respond to antibiotics and pain relief without the need for surgery. However, once an abscess has formed, antibiotics cannot penetrate into the abscess itself and surgical intervention is required.
Some abscesses can be lanced and flushed with only mild sedation however other abscesses require a full general anaesthetic and surgery to open, debride and close the wound. The assessment for whether a full general anaesthetic and surgery is required will be decided by the Veterinarian taking into account the size and location of the abscess, the age and health of your cat and also his or her temperament.
Most cats will have sutures after surgery and some will have a drain placed for 3-4 days to allow continued drainage of fluid from the surgery site. It is vital to keep your cat indoors in a quiet, safe environment while they heal. Healing usually takes about two weeks. They may need to have an Elizabethan Collar on to stop them from traumatising the wound. Most cats will be sent home with a course of antibiotics and pain relief.
The most common complication is when the abscess returns. This is usually due to either a resistant strain of bacteria and/or a lowered immune system. In either case further testing to assess the type of bacteria in the wound and sometimes repeat surgery is often required.
Prevention is easier than cure. You can help prevent your cat getting cat fight abscesses by keeping them indoors. If your cat goes outdoors sterilising them is beneficial. Sterilised cats tend to be less territorial and less aggressive and do not tend to wander as far. Building an outdoor enclosure can also allow your cat to enjoy the outdoors without the risks.
Any cat that has had a cat bite should also be tested for Feline Leukaemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). It is recommended to test at the time that the abscess is found. This will tell us if your pet has been previously infected and may result in changes in the treatment of your pet. If your cat tests negative then it is recommended to repeat the test 60 days later. This will detect the cats that were infected at the time of the bite. If your pet is found to be positive for the virus we can advise you on how best to look after your cat. Remember these viruses are not curable, but instead require management.