Cat bite abscesses


by Dr. Francesca Matthews


What is a cat bite abscess?


Everyone who has a cat has heard of a cat bite abscess right? But what on earth causes them?


Well, a cat’s mouth, much like a human’s and dog's mouth, is full of bacteria. The bacteria usually live happily in the mouth without causing any problems for the cat. One of these bacteria is called Pasturella.


Cat’s use their teeth not only for catching prey and eating, but to defend themselves. In most cases this is cat to cat, but in some cats it may be cat to dog or cat to human.

When a cat bites and breaks the skin, those canine teeth (eye teeth) act like needles and inject bacteria deep under the skin.


But I cleaned the wound well ...


If your cat has bitten you and left puncture wounds the first reaction is to go and clean the wound using something like Savlon. If your cat returns from a fight, you can usually bathe the bite wounds with saline or Savlon too.


Initially the wound appears to heal. It then later swells (an abscesses) and bursts. You clean it again and the same thing happens.



The reason why your superficial or surface cleaning is not working, is that the bacteria have been injected with the teeth deep into the wound and only systemic antibiotics (that is those that get into the blood stream) will be effective. These are usually initially administered in cats by injection at the veterinary clinic then by tablets, paste or liquid at home.


Remember DO NOT USE DETTOL in cats as it is very toxic.



What should I do then?


If your cat receives a bite wound that has resulted in puncture wounds, make an appointment for your cat to see your veterinarian. Antibiotics early in the piece will usually avoid the need for sedation to clean and flush out an abscess and debride dead (or necrotic) tissue.

If you receive a bite that leaves a puncture wound from your cat (or any other animal for that matter), make an appointment ASAP to visit your GP. They will probably prescribe antibiotics for your bite wounds to prevent you developing pasturellosis.



My cat won’t take tablets


Make sure you tell us this. There are other options, including pastes, liquid or long acting injections. The decision will depend entirely on your cat and your situation.



How important is it that I get the bite wounds treated?


The sooner the wounds are treated the less likelihood there is for serious complications. As well as the local bite wounds and/or abscess, bacteria can get into the blood stream causing a systemic (or whole body) bacterial infection.


This may cause your cat to get a very high temperature, become lethargic and go off its food. In addition to this, bacteria in the blood stream may attach to organs such as the liver, heart or kidney and create localised infections, which if left untreated may slowly progress over time (even without obvious clinical signs initially). This can lead to significant disease of these organs in months or years down the track. Lack of treatment can cause more sudden death too.


Kidney failure in old cats is a very common disease. Poor dental hygiene and lack of treatment for infection following cat bites may be two reasons why cats are so prone to this problem.


In summary, treatment is extremely important. Seek appropriate treatment as soon as practical for cat bite wounds.



Another problem with your fighting cat


FIV - this is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is much like human HIV (but don't worry, you can't catch it) and it is spread usually during fighting by exchange of blood. You can read about this in the vaccination section.


Do not assume your cat has been given this vaccination - it is not given routinely. It needs to be discussed with your veterinarian first.


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