What Are the Causes of Abscesses on Dogs?

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Untreated abscesses can develop into serious health issues.
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An abscess is an infection characterized by a raised, pus-filled, cystlike formation. An abscess can form on any area of your dog. The most common causes of abscesses on dogs are infected bites, scratches or cuts in which bacterial infection develops. Abscesses are treated in a variety of ways, from lancing and draining to application of oral or topical antibiotics. Consult a licensed vet for advice on the best course of treatment of a canine abscess.


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Dogs that are bitten by other animals, particularly wild animals, often develop abscesses at the points of the bites. Medical treatment usually involves examining the dog for signs of bite marks on other parts of the body. A vet or vet tech will shave around the wound so the area can be examined and thoroughly cleaned. Depending on how close the abscess is to the surface of the skin, the vet may apply gentle pressure or use warm compresses to help drain pus and bacteria from the wound. A vet might lance and drain deeper abscesses and then stitch them up. A dog may receive antibiotics and, in the case of an abscess that results from a wild animal bite, may be screened for infections like rabies.


Cuts and Scratches

Outside dogs are prone to scratches and cuts from fences, lawn debris and thorny trees and bushes. A cut or scratch that goes unnoticed and untreated may develop an abscess at the point of injury. A dog that steps on a sharp object and develops an abscess may walk with a raised paw or lick at the wound constantly. Abscesses of this nature are typically treated with oral antibiotics; in some cases, a topical pain medication will be administered to decrease discomfort. During recovery, the dog should be kept indoors and inactive as much as possible. When the dog goes outside to relieve itself, examine and gently cleanse the wounded, abscessed areas when it comes back in to ensure further infection does not develop. Dogs can be temporarily distracted from licking medicated paws with a chew toy or rawhide.


Dental Problems

A dental abscess typically forms along the dog's gum line and is caused by an infected, broken or decayed tooth. The abscess will look like a red, swollen bump. A vet will usually X-ray a dog's mouth to determine the best course of medical treatment for the dental abscess. In some cases the abscess can be lanced and drained or treated with oral antibiotics. If dental decay is severe, the best course of treatment may be tooth extraction.


Anal Sac Impaction

A dog's anal sacs are prone to abscesses, particularly the anal sacs of small dogs. Anal sacs drain naturally through a dog's anus, but if the sacs become full, incompletely drained or impacted, an abscess can develop. Preventative treatment via anal sac drainage is the best course of action for avoiding abscesses. Abscesses that develop are typically treated with anal gland expression, antibiotics and, in some severe cases, surgical removal of the sacs.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.