How to Treat an Abscess on a Cat

By Elle Di Jensen

Cats rarely escape a fight without a scratch. A surface scratch is bad enough, but when your kitty's skin is punctured by another cat's claw or tooth, an abscess can develop. Often, abscesses rupture on their own and will need veterinary attention to ensure proper healing and to keep infection from spreading. However, an abscess that doesn't rupture poses a greater danger. Veterinary care is always the best approach.

Identifying an Abscess

You may not have noticed the wound on your cat that resulted in an abscess. They're often smaller, puncture-type wounds from the bite of another cat that aren't obvious because they're hidden by your kitty's fur. Sometimes, an abscess can develop from something as seemingly innocuous as another cat's claw pricking the skin. The problem -- and the abscess -- crop up when the wound heals over and traps infection beneath the skin. If the abscess is large enough, it might be visible as a swollen lump on your cat's body. Smaller abscesses aren't as obvious, but you can feel them. The area will feel swollen and soft from the fluid inside the wound. It will be tender to the touch, and your cat may develop a fever, lose his appetite and seem listless.

Basic Treatment for Abscesses

Usually, abscesses have time to develop and worsen before you realize your cat has one. Consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your cat if you suspect the soft lump on his body is an abscess. The doctor likely will lance the abscess to allow the infection to drain. She'll also flush the wound to wash away as much infection as possible. In her article on VeterinaryPartner.com, Dr. Wendy Brooks of the Mar Vista Animal Medical Center in Los Angeles, California says abscesses that are especially painful, in sensitive areas or covered by fur may require that your cat be sedated, so he can be shaved and not be distressed by the draining procedure.

Sometimes It's More Serious

The longer an abscess goes without treatment, the more time it has to do damage. Surgery may have to be performed on older abscesses, as it might be necessary to remove damaged tissue and stitch the area closed. Some abscesses are so infected that a rubber tube has to be inserted to allow the infection to drain. In most cases, you'll be allowed to take your cat home with some antibiotics.

Abscess Health Risks

If left untreated, abscesses pose serious health risks to your cat. "The Doctors Book of Home Remedies for Dogs and Cats" says an abscess that doesn't drain can spread infection internally ending up in his lymph nodes. Additionally, though the bite itself won't give your cat feline leukemia, the fact that he's been bitten should raise a red flag. If the cat who bit your kitty carries the feline leukemia virus, it can be transmitted to your cat through the wound. Wendy Brooks, D.V.M., recommends that any cat who has suffered a bite wound be tested for FeLV roughly 60 days after the bite occurred.

Dealing With an Abscess Emergency

There's always the possibility that an abscess will burst from the pressure of the infection building up beneath your cat's skin. The infection is foul-smelling; if any skin tissue has been damaged that will contribute to the odor. Clean your kitty as best you can with warm water and a soft cloth, but take care not to aggravate the wound. Seek veterinary care. "The Doctors Book of Home Remedies for Dogs and Cats" advises against trying to treat an abscess yourself, saying that doing so can cost valuable time.