Any cat can get a fight abscess or abscess wound. Un-neutered male cats are at higher risk than female cats and neutered male cats. Outdoor cats are more susceptible to cat fight abscess wounds than indoor cats.
above: cat abscess wound, between the ear and jaw. The wound is about three days old.
An abscess is a lump of pus and bacteria under the cat’s skin. The abscess forms when a sharp object, usually another cat’s tooth or claw, punctures the skin. Bacteria invade the wound, and the cat’s body releases white blood cells to fight the infection.
A cat’s skin heals quickly over a puncture wound. Trapped bacteria and pus under the skin form a lump or abscess. The abscess swells and, eventually, bursts. Before the abscess bursts, the cat may show signs of infection, such as lethargy.
Treating a Cat Fight Abscess Wound at Home
After the abscess bursts, it leaves an ugly open wound. A chunk of skin is missing, revealing raw gray, whitish or reddish tissue beneath, and the wound oozes blood and pus. If the cat has been scratching the area, there may be bald or abraded patches. Surrounding hair may be matted. Fluids from the wound exude a strong stench.
Before treating the wound, have all the equipment ready. To treat the cat fight abscess wound, you’ll need:
- sterile gauze (lots)
- warm water
- sterilized tweezers
- hydrogen peroxide 3% (or saline solution if you prefer)
- iodine, diluted half and half with water, or a vet-approved antibiotic spray or ointment (optional)
The infected area will be sore and tender. The cat might act aggressively, so beware of injury to yourself. If possible, have someone else hold and soothe the cat while you focus on treatment, or vice versa.
Put the cat on a clean surface and be sure there’s plenty of light, so you can see the entire wound area. An excitable cat may be calmed if you grasp the scruff of the neck gently but firmly, applying slight downward pressure (don’t lift the cat by the scruff). At the same time, speak softly to reassure the cat. If you’re nervous, the cat will pick up on your anxiety and become more agitated.
Cleaning the Wound
First, use gauze with an equal mix of warm water and hydrogen peroxide 3% to clean away any oozing fluids around the wound and in the cat’s hair. Don’t use tissues or cotton balls, as these leave fibers in the wound and aggravate the infection. Soap isn’t recommended, because it can leave residue or dyes in a raw, open wound, causing further complications.
Use the tweezers to remove any debris in the wound. Carefully trim any long or matted hair around the wound. If there’s any hanging skin, leave it, but be sure it doesn’t fuse into the wound. Cutting away skin will hurt the cat and can cause more bleeding and infection. Hanging or abraded skin will usually dry up and fall off by itself as the wound heals.
Disinfecting the Wound
After the preliminary cleaning and trimming, soak a wad of gauze in hydrogen peroxide, saline solution or diluted iodine and apply liberally to the wound and surrounding area. Hydrogen peroxide, saline and iodine effectively kill bacteria in the open wound and help prevent infection. Apply hydrogen peroxide 3% full strength, or mix half and half with water.
To Bandage or Not to Bandage
You might want to bandage the wound with gauze. Before bandaging, apply a vet-approved antibiotic spray or lotion if desired. Chances are the cat will try to remove the bandage at the first opportunity, and some areas of a cat simply aren’t bandage-able, but with proper care the wound will heal regardless.
Exposure to open air can actually be more effective in healing a cat fight abscess wound than conscientious bandaging, which may prevent healthy air circulation and trap bacteria. If you bandage the wound, change the bandage and dressing at least twice a day.
After the initial treatment, continue to clean the wound 1-3 times a day with hydrogen peroxide until the wound is satisfactorily healed. Healing time varies depending on the infection, but the usual healing time is one to two weeks. Keep the healing wound free of hair and debris.
Complicatons of a Cat Fight Abscess Wound
The wound may continue to bleed slightly for a few days, especially if the cat “worries” at it by biting or scratching. In this case the wound takes a little longer to heal, and you have to be extra careful of infection. If the cat excessively bites or scratches at the wound, you may have to get a cat cone collar (otherwise known as the cone of shame) to prevent the cat from reaching the wound.
Watch for signs of worsening infection, including:
- red, inflamed wound edges
- swelling; puffiness in or around the wound
- continuing noxious odor
- black, festering areas
- ongoing fever, lethargy, swollen lymph nodes or other signs of illness in the cat
When properly cleaned and treated, almost all cat fight abscess wounds heal without complications. Cats are usually well-resistant to infection, and cat skin is tough and naturally inclined to fast healing. However, in some cases veterinary treatment may be necessary. Take the cat to the vet if:
- the cat has multiple wounds
- the wound doesn’t show signs of healing
- the infection gets worse
- the cat continues to re-open the wound by scratching or biting the area
- the cat is obviously ill
- the cat is not up-to-date on vaccinations ie feline leukemia, rabies
- you are excessively worried
Blood Poisoning (Sepsis)
Ongoing infection can make a cat seriously ill as bacteria enters the bloodstream, causing sepsis or blood poisoning. Sepsis will kill a cat. Take the cat to a vet immediately if he/she shows signs of blood poisoning, including:
- severe lethargy
- pale mucous membranes
- hypothermia or hyperthermia
- signs of diffuse pain when the abdomen is palpitated
- weak pulse
- tachypnea (rapid breathing and heartbeat)
- bradycardia (slow breathing and heartbeat)
- icterus (jaundice – indicated by yellowing of the skin, ears, or whites of the eyes)
Preventing a Cat Fight Abscess Wound
It’s difficult to prevent cat fight abscess wounds in outdoor cats. Neutering a male cat will keep him closer to home and less inclined to fight with other cats. Spayed female cats are also less at risk.
The only sure way to prevent a cat fight abscess or an abscess wound is to keep the cat indoors, away from other cats, and away from small sharp objects that may penetrate the skin. Otherwise, cat abscess wounds are just one of the many joys of cat ownership.