Your sweet, peace loving feline companion sneaks out between your legs as you take the trash out. Despite searching, there is no sign of her, so you are thrilled to hear her meowing at the door the next morning. She fusses a bit when you pick her up, but you figure she is just upset at being out all night.
A couple of days later, you rub your hand down her back and when you get near the tail, she hisses. At this point, you may examine the area and not find anything—or do you? You may note two tiny pinprick size spots that look a bit red. Or you may feel a soft lump that opens and drains foul-smelling, thick liquid all over your hand and your cat’s tail and rear. With all three scenarios, the odds are that your cat was bitten while “out on the town” and has an abscess brewing.
Anecdotally, it seems that female cats and young males get bitten in the rear most often. Older tom cats tend to have face abscesses. Presumably the female cats and young males are running away from trouble while the older males are fighting back.
Cat bites almost invariably lead to abscesses in other cats (they can cause nasty infections in people too). The sharp points of the canine teeth can “inject” bacteria under the skin. These bacteria are comfortable moving from one cat to another. The tiny openings often heal closed, trapping pathogenic bacteria, such as Pasteurella multocida, inside. These and other bacteria that can flourish in an anaerobic atmosphere grow rapidly.
Your cat’s immune system reacts to bacterial invaders. Even if these bacteria normally exist in one area, such as your cat’s oral cavity, the body recognizes that they don’t belong under the skin in other areas. The immune response leads to a collection of pus, which may have a tough fibrous capsule layered around it. Almost always, as the material and pressure builds up inside, the abscess will ultimately rupture.
Prior to rupture, you may feel a swollen area on your cat’s body. It generally will feel warm and may be painful to the touch. Cats with abscesses tend to run fevers and may be lethargic. If the abscess is developing on a leg, you might notice lameness. Certainly, most cats who are developing an abscess will be irritable. If you suspect an abscess, schedule a veterinary visit promptly.
Abscesses need to be opened and drained. If the abscess opens on its own, the area still needs to be thoroughly flushed and cleaned. The goal is to remove all bacteria and have the now-open wound heal slowly from inside out without the development of any more “pockets” of infection. If your cat has multiple abscess pockets, your veterinarian may need to place a drain. The drain serves to keep the wound open, allows oxygen into the area and forces slow, careful healing.