Cats are no strangers to abscesses. In fact, seeing a cat with an abscess in practice is a weekly event for us. Fortunately, most abscesses are quick to heal if the proper treatment is started. With this in mind, let’s explore what makes up an abscess, what happens when it ruptures, and what you and your vet can do about it.
What is an abscess in cats?
An abscess in cats is a pocket of infection within the skin layers or beneath the skin. They tend to appear as swollen lumps that may be hot, red and painful. If severe, cats may also become lethargic, run a fever, and not want to eat.
Abscesses are often caused by a bite or scratch wound from a fight with another cat or animal. That’s because cat teeth and claws are able to introduce a lot of bacteria to a small wound that will often close up quickly, leaving an infection to brew inside. A cat’s body responses by sending inflammatory and immune cells to the area, creating that redness, heat, and swelling and forming pus to help collect and flush the bacteria out. As all of this accummulates, the abscess grows until the skin can no longer hold it, causing it to rupture.
What does a ruptured abscess look like?
You’ll more than likely notice the abscess and other signs before it ruptures. However, when the abscess does burst, you’ll see a draining wound. The discharge is often thick and yellowish colored and has a foul odor. Your cat may lick the area excessively and still be quite painful.
Causes of ruptured abscesses in cats
Abscesses can rupture or burst if enough pus builds up, or if the skin holding the pus in starts to die away because of the injury. A ruptured abscess can have a few causes:
- An undetected abscess: If you don’t know there’s an abscess to begin with, the pocket could grow rapidly and then rupture before you’re able to start treatment
- Poor wound healing: wounds on cats with weakened immune systems or underlying health issues may not heal well. This makes the cats more prone to abscesses and ruptured abscesses.
- Foreign objects: Sometimes, foreign objects such as thorns, splinters, or debris can become embedded in a cat’s skin, leading to infections or abscesses. Eventually, foreign objects may try to make their way out, rupturing the abscesses in the process.
Signs and symptoms of a ruptured or burst abscess in cats
Abscesses typically present with the same set of signs, even if caused by different things
- Swollen, painful area: A cat with a ruptured abscess may have a tender, swollen area on their body that is warm to the touch.
- Drainage or oozing: When an abscess ruptures, it results in the release of pus and sometimes blood. Some abscesses are foul smelling while others may not have much odor at all.
- Fever: As the infection builds and the immune system tries to fight it off, the cat may develop a fever (much like what happens when humans are battling an infection)
- Lethargy and loss of appetite: Cats with abscesses may have decreased energy levels or lose their appetite. Cats with dental abscesses may not eat simply because of pain.
- Pain and discomfort: Cats may groom excessively or show signs of discomfort when the abscessed area is touched. This is because the abscess is associated with the original injury, and also creates inflammation and irritation of it’s own.
Notable Differences between Intact and Ruptured Abscess:
An abscess is an abscess, but there are some differences between one that’s still holed up in the body, and one that has ruptured. Abscesses that are still intact will appear as a firm, swollen lump under the skin. The area will likely be warm to the touch and painful. There may also be hairloss over the area. It’s not until an abscess ruptures that you’ll see an open wound or visible hole. The opening will ooze pus and sometimes blood. There may or may not be a foul smell.
Potential Complications of a Burst Abscess:
Abscesses are built up pockets of infection, and we all know infections can have a big impact on the body. Complications secondary to a ruptured abscess include:
- An open wound that may be prone to additional infection
- Skin that has difficulty healing because of damage from the injury or abscess
- Pain and discomfort for the animal
- Infection that spreads to other parts of the body (bacteria can enter the blood stream) or to other animals in close proximity
- Chronic infection is possible if the wound isn’t treated properly from the start
It’s imperative to get in contact with your cat’s veterinarian immediately upon discovery of any wound. If the wound was concealed though, and you only notice it once the abscess is formed, it’s vital to make an appointment as soon as possible. Ignoring a wound or abscess could lead to life threatening complications.
Home Remedies for Handling a Ruptured Abscess:
While getting to a veterinarian is the absolute best way to handle a wound on your cat, or to treat an abscess you’ve discovered, there are some basic steps you can take at home before the appointment:
- Wound cleaning: Gently clean the area with a mild pet-safe antiseptic solution and warm water to help remove debris and bacteria. Do not use alcohol or peroxide in any form as these can be irritating. Do not use cleansers specific to humans. Rinse gently, do not wipe or rub the area as you may cause unnecessary discomfort.
- Warm compress: Apply a warm compress to the abscessed area to encourage drainage and relieve discomfort.
- Separate the cat from other animals to prevent spreading of bacteria and to keep other animals from bothering the wound.
These are basic first steps but you should still follow up with your cat’s veterinarian for further care. Do not administer any over-the-counter medications, as many medications are toxic to cats. Do not apply bandages unless directed to do so by a veterinarian – abscess wounds need to be allowed to drain.
Best Products to Help at Home:
Veterinary care is the best treatment for abscesses in cats. But while you wait cleaning the area with warm water and a diluted antiseptic can help provide some comfort for your cat.
You may also want to put an e collar on your cat to keep them from scratching or licking the abscess until proper care can happen.
Visit the Vet or Wait and See?
It is crucial to contact your cat’s veterinarian when dealing with a ruptured abscess. While minor wounds and even abscesses may resolve, your veterinarian should be the one to determine the severity of the injury and abscess, treat the area as appropriate, prescribe the necessary medications, and recommend home-care measures after veterinary treatment.
Treatment Options and Likely Costs When Visiting the Vet:
When your veterinarian examines your pet, they’ll decide the level of treatment that’s in your cat’s best interest. Treatment may include wound cleaning, sometimes even surgery, plus antibiotics and pain management. Costs will vary depending on the extent of the infection but you can generally expect:
- Exam fee: $50 – $200 or more (especially if it is an emergency visit)
- Minor wound care: potentially less than $200
- Surgery if the abscess is significant: upwards of $1000
- Antibiotics: cost varies, as different antibiotics treat different infections. Expect $20 – $100 or more
- Pain Management: $50 – $100 or more
- Medications/ treatments/ supplies to take home: $50 – $200
Although the cost may seem significant, the veterinarian is recommending a level of care based on your cat’s unique situation. It’s important to abide by the veterinarian’s recommendation but if cost is a factor in your decisions, be sure to communicate this before any treatment plans are started.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How can I prevent my cat from getting abscesses in the future?
In cats, abscesses are most often caused by bite or scratch wounds from other animals. If you have an outdoor cat who frequently gets abscesses, do your best to keep them indoors or closely monitor them when they’re outdoors. Consider fencing in your yard to allow them outdoor time but keep them safe and contained just like you might for a dog. If your indoor cat is getting into fights with another feline roommate, consider supervised visits only to prevent fighting.
How can I tell early if my cat has a ruptured abscess?
Abscesses are pockets of pus under the skin, you’ll recognize them as a soft or firm lump that may be painful and warm. If the abscess ruptures, you may notice pain, oozing discharge, and changes in behavior.
Are antibiotics always necessary for a ruptured abscess?
Antibiotics are often prescribed to treat abscesses. Though it depends on the extent of the injury and infection, they are commonly used because the infection has reached well beyond the body’s ability to manage it while also keeping the animal healthy. Antibiotics also help prevent secondary infections that may come about with an open wound.
Do ruptured abscesses in cats smell a lot?
Some abscesses may develop a strong odor but not all of them do. Presence of odor alone is not enough to confirm whether or not it’s an abscess you’re dealing with. Any injury that’s swollen or leaking pus has potential to be infected.