October 2009 Issue

Abscesses: Take Them Seriously

They’re usually seen in unneutered males with outdoor access.

For several days, your cat has been acting uncharacteristically lethargic and off his food. Then one evening, while stroking his back, you feel a smallish lump just to the side of his tail. Although you touch the lump gently, he responds with a hiss, leaping from your lap and scurrying into a dark corner. The lump you discovered is quite possibly an abscess, and the sensitive swelling may indicate that the cat has an infection — and necessitating prompt veterinary care. Distinctive Characteristics. An abscess is a localized collection of pus, a yellowish fluid that forms at the site of an infection. Although pus typically contains a certain amount of cellular debris and dead tissue, it is composed mainly of white blood cells that have been summoned by the immune system to combat invading bacteria or other microorganisms. Cats can develop a variety of lumps and bumps on their skin — cysts, tumors, pimples and so forth — but abscesses have their own distinctive characteristics, notes William Miller, VMD, medical director at Cornell University’s Companion Animal Hospital. "Because an abscess is filled with pus," he says, "it will be inflamed, warm and tender. Tumors are not usually like that, and pimples are merely superficial eruptions, affecting the outer layer of skin and minuscule by comparison to an abscess." External and Internal. An abscess may develop at the site of a penetrating wound — if a cat steps on a thorn, a wood sliver or a piece of glass, for example. But abscess-producing infections in cats usually result from bites from other cats, since the bacteria that cause infection are normal inhabitants of the feline mouth.

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