Yowling, and crashing into things. But, unless you were present, cats can be secretive about any altercations they have.
They’re also stoic and try not to reveal any sign of weakness or injury. A cat injured in a fight may hide a bit more and avoid activities that twinge his wounds. Blood will often be promptly groomed away. And cat bites themselves are sneaky—the sharp, narrow canine teeth of cats create small but deep puncture wounds that can be difficult to find under your cat’s thick coat. Even if you suspect your cat might be hurt, you may not be able to find the wound(s) until several days later when swelling and infection make them more noticeable.
Any cat can get caught up in a spat, but some are more likely culprits than others. Intact tomcats are the feline world’s top fighters, especially if they roam outdoors, fighting over territory and mates.
Any cat that goes outside is more likely to get in a fight than indoor cats because of the exposure to strange cats (one of the reasons we recommend that owners keep their cats indoors).
For indoor cats, fights can occur due to power struggles or redirected aggression. Your cats may get riled up by a strange cat they can see or smell through a window, but then turn on each other when they can’t chase the intruder. Bullies may harass your other cats as they try to eat or drink or prevent them from moving freely throughout the house.
- Obvious signs that your cat has been in a fight include:
- Puncture wounds
- Missing hair, especially face or tail
- Shredded ear(s)
Cat fight wounds warrant a veterinary exam, but as long as your cat is conscious and behaving normally and you are able to stop any bleeding, it is probably not an emergency. A veterinary appointment should be made a soon as possible, though, and owners should inform their veterinarians that they are concerned about the possibility of bite wounds when scheduling a visit.
Caution should be used if the cat has been outside, in case the event involved a rabid stray animal. Handle the cat with gloves and be careful not to come in direct contact with any body fluid.
Unless you catch your cat bleeding or limping, many cat bite wounds will go undetected at first. Unfortunately, these tiny puncture wounds tend to seal up on the surface of the skin, trapping bacteria and other contamination from the bite inside. As the bacteria thrive and your cat’s immune system tries to fight them off, an abscess will often form. An abscess is a pus-filled pocket made up of bacteria, white blood cells, and other debris.
The signs of an infection or abscess often include:
- Area red, swollen, and warm
- Poor appetite
- Thick, yellowish/greenish discharge
Abscesses are painful, especially if located in an area with little room for swelling, such as the face or a limb. Your cat may resist letting you examine the area. He may also have a fever as his body tries to fight the infection.
If the abscess is unable to expand any more, it may rupture through the skin. It is as gross as it sounds. You may notice pus or blood on his coat in the affected area and on his bedding.
When you take your fightin’ cat to the veterinarian, he or she will usually start with a physical examination, feeling your cat all over his body and shaving the hair in any areas that feel suspicious. While shaving may leave your cat with a wacky haircut, it allows the veterinary team to get a good look at any injuries and removes fur/debris that can contaminate wounds. Superficial wounds can be cleaned with an antiseptic.
Most abscesses will need to be drained and flushed. If the abscess has already ruptured on its own, your veterinarian will gently manipulate the area to get as much pus out as possible. If it has not ruptured, a small incision can be made with a scalpel to open it up.
Once empty, the pocket can be flushed with sterile saline and an antiseptic to clean it out. Abscesses count as a “dirty” or contaminated wound, so your veterinarian will not usually suture them closed. Small wounds will often be left to heal on their own, and larger ones may be closed partway with a drain left in place for several days to provide any residual discharge a way out. Once there is no more discharge coming from the drain, the drain will be removed.
Your cat will usually be started on antibiotics to prevent or treat infection, and a culture of the wound may be obtained to identify any invading bacteria and guide antibiotic selection. Give the full course, even if your cat seems more comfortable after the first few days.
Some cats are tolerant of having minor bite wounds and abscesses treated, but others may require sedation or general anesthesia. Extremely painful, scared, or aggressive cats and any cat who requires placement of a drain will likely require anesthesia to make the process as quick and painless as possible.
What You Can Do
- Consult with a veterinary behaviorist if your cat likes to bully or attack others in the house.
- Discourage stray cats from hanging around your house.
- Keep your cat indoors, supervised on a leash, or in a catio.
- Provide enough food bowls, water bowls, and litterboxes for the number of cats in your house