What to do if your cat has an abscess - Health care information and advice

Cats often develop subcutaneous abscesses, and there are several different reasons for why one of these may appear. Some may even go unnoticed by cat owners until they burst. Knowing what to look out for and then how to treat a cat abscess is an important part in helping keep a cat happy and healthy.

Several months ago, Tuna had an abscess burst behind her neck in the middle of the night. Both of us felt awful - we were unaware she even had an abscess forming! Being the middle of the night, we sought advice from our veterinary  practice, and were able to manage the situation at home. We thought we would cover all about an abscess today in this post. 

What is an abscess in a cat, and why does one occur?

Abscesses are an accumulations of pus that usually form as a result of puncture wounds inflicted during cat fights and bites. These can be from real cat fights, or playfighting. There can even be causes of abscesses other than cat fights - whether real or not, for example foreign bodies such as splinters. You may not know what caused an abscess until it bursts and you can examine the contents in the pus.

In order for a cat to develop a bite wound abscess, they need to be bitten by another animal - most often another cat. When a cat gets bitten by another cat, bacteria from the mouth of the biter enters the wound, and an abscess can begin to form. These are seen under the skin of cats as lumps however may not be visible, especially in particular areas that aren't always visible, or in particularly furry cats. Theses abscesses may feel hot to the touch as a result of skin inflammation.

What are the symptoms of cat abscess that your cat may display?

If your cat has an abscess he will be in a great deal of pain. Signs of an abscess may include:

  • There is a sudden loss of appetite - this may especially be noticeable in cats that are food hogs
  • Your cat may become less active - they may sit in a place alone, or in a different position for long periods of time
  • They may be reluctant to move or play with you or with other animals in the house
  • They may be reluctant for you to touch or pet them, or they are in obvious pain when you touch them, potentially growling or hissing
  • They may have a fever, which would be indicated with feeling hot to the touch
  • You may notice a lump or hot inflamed area - you also may not, so please do not feel bad if you don't notice this
  • Combined with the other symptoms listed, your cat may begin to limp especially if the abscess forms on one of the extremities

What can you do if you find an abscess on your cat?

If you discover your cat has an abscess, then the first thing to do is call your veterinary practice. If like us you discover this in the middle of the night, call your veterinary practice if they have an afterhours number, or call your local night veterinary practice. You can get advice over the phone, and an appointment can be made for your cat. Until you actually see the veterinarian, you should do the following:

If the abscess has not burst:

  • Very carefully trim away as much hair from the site as you possibly can - or as much as your cat allows - so you can better see the extent of the abscess
  • Apply a clean cloth soaked in warm water to the site. Try to keep it on the wound for a minute or two at a time
  • After these steps, the area should be clean and you should have a better idea of just how big and bad the abscess is

If the abscess has burst:

  • Follow the above steps first
  • Lightly irrigate the wound - clean the wound out with warmed sterile saline and a syringe without the needle. PLEASE DO NOT make your own saline, sterile is best. You can purchase sterile saline from most pharmacies for a very minimal price
  • You can 'warm' the saline by placing it in a cup of warm water for a few minutes, or tightly wrap your hands around it for a minimum of five minutes
  • Slowly and gently irrigate the wound - potentially your cat might be aggravated at this, and you may need an extra pair of hands to prevent injuries to yourself and your cat
  • Irrigate the wound until the contents run clear, this may take several attempts, but you want to remove as much of the pus as possible to prevent infection
  • Do not attempt to bandage the wound without veterinary assistance, this can cause more harm than good as vet bandages are specifically made for veterinary purposes, and human-appropriate adhesive bandages are not always the best option

Over the next few days:

  • Monitor your cat for signs of improvement, including increased appetite, and increase in play time and wanting to spend time being patted
  • Assess the wound. If a scab appears to be growing too fast and you are worried it might trap bacteria underneath it, you may need to debride by reducing some of the scab to let the wound heal from the inside out
  • Keep in mind that the area may be painful, and you may experience protesting from your cat. A gentle soak of sterile saline can soften the scab so it can be slowly and gently removed in a less painful way
  • If the scab has been on for several days already, please leave it alone


DISCLAIMER: Our advice absolutely does not substitute a consultation with your veterinarian, and is intended only as a guide based on our experiences. We recommend you follow any and all advice given by your veterinarian, and contact them immediately with any concerns you have for your cat. You need to follow medication advice as dispensed by your veterinarian, monitor your cat closely during their recovery period, noting any changes, and make contact with your veterinarian as you require.

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