The face and neck are very common places for cats to get abscesses. That’s simply because the head is usually the first body part to go in when a cat is investigating something or fighting. As a vet, I’ve seen numerous abscesses on cat faces. The good news is, they are often easily treated and heal quickly with very few complications.
If you suspect your cat has a facial abscess, it’s important to work on promptly getting them the care they need. Not just for their general health and wellbeing, but also for their immediate comfort. Abscesses are painful! Identifying the cause might be difficult, but there are some first aid steps you can take and a spectrum of treatment options available through your cat’s veterinarian.
Common causes of abscesses on the face of cats
1) Skin infection: Bacteria from an infection on the surface of the skin can end up in deeper layers if there’s enough damage from the original infection. In this case, there will be a more obvious signs on the surface of the skin such as inflammation, irritation, and potentially even hair loss. If an abscess follows, these signs will be accompanied by a swelling beneath the skin surface.
2) Puncture wound: A bite from another animal, a scratch, or even foreign material like a thorn or splinter can introduce bacteria into the skin, resulting in an abscess. Abscesses from a puncture, especially one that contains foreign material, may not be obvious at first if the opening is concealed by fur or has healed over.
3) Dental disease: A cat with dental disease is prone to tooth root and socket infections. Because teeth are seated just inside the cheek or lips, an abscess in this area can easily work it’s way through the tissues outward toward the face. Foul breath, stained teeth or teeth covered in tartar, or broken teeth, accompanied by a facial swelling, are strong indicators of an abscess from dental disease.
Factors that increase a cat’s risk of developing abscesses on the face:
- Outdoor access: Cats that roam outdoors have an increased risk of encountering fights or injuries. Prevention involves reducing or eliminating outdoor time for cats.
- Social interaction: Cats that interact with other animals, particularly in multi-cat households where there is conflict, are more prone to abscesses. Prevention involves moderating conflict between cats and keeping cat nails trimmed. Read more about stress management techniques for cats here:
- Immunocompromised cats: Conditions that weaken the immune system, such as feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), can increase the risk of abscess formation.
- Dental disease: Any cat with tooth staining, tartar buildup on the teeth, broken teeth, or other signs of bad teeth could be at risk.
What to do when an abscess occurs on the face of your cat
If you notice an abscess on your cat’s face, the first thing you should do is contact your veterinarian. Abscesses on the face can become serious, even causing difficulty breathing or eating if they aren’t treated properly. Your vet is the best option for getting that proper treatment, so don’t delay making an appointment.
How to help your cat home
While you wait for your veterinary appointment, here are some basic first aid steps you can take to care for your cat:
- Keep the area clean by gently washing it with warm water and mild antiseptic solution. Open abscesses can be painful though, especially if deep, so surface level cleaning is recommended but the solution should not be put inside of an open wound. Avoid alcohol or peroxide as these can be very irritating.
- Apply a warm compress to the abscess for a few minutes several times a day to promote drainage.
- Avoid squeezing or puncturing the abscess, as it may worsen the infection.
- If your cat is bothering at the abscessed area, consider applying a cone or other collar type that will keep their face protected
Remember, these steps are interim measures, and veterinary intervention is necessary for proper care. Do not administer any medications without explicit instruction from your veterinarian.
Best products to help at home
You should not attempt to rupture the abscess or give any medications at home unless directed by your veterinarian. However, these products can come in handy to offer your kitty some welcome relieve and to prevent them from making the abscess worse.
Will a cat’s abscess heal on its own?
While some abscesses may end up rupturing and draining spontaneously, we (and your veterinarian) don’t recommend waiting for this to happen. Abscesses are painful and potentially dangerous if left untreated, as the bacteria in the abscess can enter the blood stream and cause more widespread damage throughout the body. Seeking veterinary care is crucial to prevent complications and ensure appropriate treatment.
Abscesses from foreign material likely won’t resolve until surgery is done to remove the material. If the abscess is from dental disease however, it likely wont resolve until oral surgery is done to remove the infected tooth and also clean the remaining teeth (to prevent re-occurring oral abscesses.)
When to visit the vet
It’s best to contact a veterinarian as soon as you notice an issue, since abscesses are painful and can also cause secondary issues. Your cat’s veterinarian can determine how severe the abscess is and give you an idea about the right course of treatment. Some abscesses may be mild and don’t necessarily require immediate emergency attention, though should definitely be examined within a couple of days. Abscesses that are ruptured should be treated right away.
Other symptoms to watch out for in cats with an abscess on their face
An abscess is concerning enough on it’s own but an abscess accompanied by any of these signs deserves acute attention:
- Lethargy or decreased appetite
- Swelling or redness extending beyond the abscess site
- Discharge or foul odor from the abscess
- Excessive grooming or pawing at the affected area
Frequently asked questions
Can I treat a cat’s abscess at home?
While basic first aid can temporarily alleviate symptoms, your cat needs you to take them for veterinary care at the first sign of an abscess. This condition requires professional attention to drain the abscess, prescribe appropriate treatments and medications, and recommend continuation of care.
How can I tell if my cat has an abscess or another type of injury?
You’ll recognize an abscess on the face as a localized, swollen, painful area; it may not even be very big. Abscesses are often warm to the touch and there will likely be an obvious painful reaction from your cat if you try to handle the area.
Are abscesses in cats contagious to humans or other pets?
Most abscesses in cats are not directly contagious to humans or other pets, because it’s actually related to your cat’s own injuries or illnesses. It’s important to handle an abscess with care though, so the bacteria forming the abscess doesn’t get into any open wounds or weaknesses in your skin or affect your other pets.
How long does it take for a cat’s abscess to heal?
It’s difficult to predict how long an abscess takes to heal because it depends on the source, location, and severity. Abscesses from a minor injury could heal very quickly with proper treatment. Abscesses from a splinter or other foreign material won’t heal until the foreign material is removed. Abscesses from dental disease also will not heal until the diseased tooth is removed and the area is treated. Untreated abscesses could last for weeks or even months and potentially create a serious situation.
Can I put Neosporin or over-the-counter products on my cat’s abscess?
We wouldn’t recommend treating with Neosporin or other over-the-counter products without contacting your veterinarian first. In some cases first aid can be administered as described above but long-term treatment of an abscess should be left to your veterinarian instead.