Head and facial swelling in cats

Head and Facial Swelling in Cats


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Swelling can occur on any part of the head and face and there are a number of possible causes. Any swelling on the face or head must be medically evaluated. Infection, injury, trauma can all cause swelling on your cat’s face or head.

Common causes of head and facial swelling include:

Dental abscess

A dental abscess is a pus-filled pocket beneath the tooth causing swelling, it may be open or closed. Common causes of dental abscess include trauma, broken tooth, and FORL lesions.

Pain and fever will accompany an abscess and your cat may display a reluctance to eat if he has a painful mouth. If the abscess hasn’t opened up, you will notice a firm, round and warm lump either inside the mouth or outside. Once open, a foul-smelling liquid will ooze out of the wound.


Lance and clean the abscess and remove the affected tooth. Oral antibiotics as a follow-up.

Facial abscess

Much like a dental abscess, a facial abscess is a pus-filled pocket on the skin. Most abscesses occur as a result of a bite from another cat which injects bacteria under the skin. As the body fights this, it walls off the affected area to prevent the infection spreading.


Lancing the wound, cleaning it out and a course of antibiotics to kill the bacteria.


There are a number of cancers which can affect the face causing lumps and swelling. Tumours can affect any part of the face including the eye, mouth, skin, connective tissue, lymph nodes, and bone.

Symptoms will vary depending on the location and type of cancer but may include swelling (often unilateral), loss of appetite, hair loss, open wounds, ulceration, bleeding from the affected area.


Depends on the type and location of cancer but may include surgery to remove the tumour and/or chemotherapy and radiation therapy to shrink the tumour.

Allergic reaction

Food allergies are known to cause swelling in the facial area, along with contact and inhalant allergy and insect bites or stings. The cause of the allergic reaction will need to be determined.


Insect bites and stings can generally be treated with a cool compress and the administration of Benadryl.

Where possible, eliminate the source of allergies from the environment.

Food allergies are treated by switching your cat to a different diet, food elimination trials may be necessary to diagnose this.

Ear hematoma

An ear hematoma is a localised collection of clotted blood within the ear, usually the result of trauma to the affected area. Symptoms include a small or large “bubble” in the ear, which will feel warm to the touch and be painful.


This depends on the size of the hematoma. Small hematomas can be drained with a needle. Larger ones will require surgery to correct, opening up the affected area to allow the fluid to drain out.

Snake bite

Snakebites usually occur on the face, neck of front legs of the cat and cause swelling to the affected area. Snakes can be venomous or nonvenomous. Obviously venomous are by far more dangerous, but even nonvenomous bites can cause pain, inflammation, and swelling of the affected area.


Antivenom to neutralise the venom and supportive care.

Rodent ulcer

A rodent (or indolent) ulcer is an inflammatory lesion which usually affects the upper lip area. It is believed that rodent ulcers are the result of an allergic reaction to insect bites or food. Symptoms are a raised, thickened red/brown ulcer which is well defined.


Control parasites with a suitable medication, steroids to reduce inflammation and eliminating the cause (where known).


Cryptococcosis is a fungal infection which colonises the upper respiratory tract in cats and other animals. Immunocompromised cats are especially at risk. Symptoms include hard, nodular swellings, particularly across the nose, sneezing, nasal discharge, skin lesions on the head and lethargy.


Antibiotic therapy and in some cases surgery will be necessary to remove lesions in the nasal cavity.

Paracetamol (acetaminophen) toxicity

Do not give paracetamol to cats as they lack the necessary enzyme to metabolise it. Symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, salivation, difficulty breathing, brown colouration of the gums ( due to methemoglobinemia) and of course swelling to the face (and paws). Liver damage and damage from methemoglobinemias are the main toxic effects of ingestion of paracetamol.


Immediate treatment is vital for a cat who has ingested paracetamol. The earlier the treatment the better the outcome.

Induce vomiting as well as administration of N-acetylcysteine to neutralise the drug. Once symptoms develop, the prognosis is poor.


Conjunctivitis is a swelling of the conjunctiva, the pink membrane which covers the front of the eyeball. There are a number of causes including infection, allergies, foreign object, and injury. Symptoms include swelling, a raw/meaty appearance around the eye, blinking, squinting, eye discharge, watering, pawing the eye.


Find and address the underlying cause including, antibiotics, antiviral medications and removal of the foreign object.

Julia Wilson is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care.Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. She enjoys photography, gardening and running in her spare time.Full author bio Contact Julia