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Skin and Soft Tissue Infections And Abscesses In Cats

A painful abscess, resulting from a bite wound when fighting, is a common occurrence in cats. It requires drainage and treatment with antibiotics.

The skin forms the outer covering of the body and serves as protection against a hostile external environment. This includes heat/cold, water/dryness, chemical toxins, mechanical damage, sunlight and a host of would-be invaders such as bacteria, fungi, yeasts, mites, insects and viruses.

Pyoderma (bacterial skin infection) is relatively uncommon in cats. However, subcutaneous (under the skin) abscesses in the soft tissues are relatively common.

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  • Abscess
    An abscess is a build-up of pus in the deeper layers under the skin. This is often the result of a bite wound from another cat. A wide range of bacteria (Pasteurella multocida, Fusobacterium spp., Bacteroides spp., Prevotella oralis, β haemolytic Streptococci and/or Staphylococcus pseudintermedius.) from the other cat’s teeth or other penetrating object will multiply to cause an abscess. Over 2 to 3 days, the local tissue becomes infected and swollen. In the centre there is a build up of pus (a thick pungent fluid) which is normally yellow, tinged with red and/or green.

    The pus is initially distributed throughout the infected tissue, but then concentrates in the centre. When the abscess is mature it may burst and discharge this pus. Surgery may be needed to open the wound and ensure complete drainage.

    Sometimes a penetrating object, foreign body or dirt remains in the centre of the abscess. Usually this is discharged with the pus. However, it may remain and full healing cannot take place until this is found and removed. Sometimes a small channel will remain and discharge small quantities of pus to the outside. This is called a sinus.

    Other skin infections
    Long-standing bacterial infections can develop if aggressive bacteria or even certain soil fungi are present in the wound, or if the cat constantly interferes with the wound.

    Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin and fur of cats. Humans in close contact can become infected.

  • It is often obvious when a cat has an abscess, but sometimes the signs may be more subtle. The following features are common with cat abscesses:

    • The cat may have a temperature and feel generally unwell.
    • An abscess is usually a raised swelling of the skin.
    • There is often significant pain at the infected area, and the cat is very sensitive to being touched in the vicinity of the abscess.
    • The most common sites are paws, legs, face, scruff, tail or tail-base.
    • The abscess will feel warm or hot.
    • There will often be fur loss at the centre of the swelling and the skin may look purple tinged. In long-standing infections, discharge of pus may take place from several holes. After an abscess has discharged, the tissues may reduce in size and heal very quickly. However, in other cases the infection may persist for days, weeks or even months, as the body tries to wall off the infection with fibrous scar tissue.

    Other infections:

    Ringworm, a fungal infection, shows as broken hairs or patches of hair loss, and crusts.

  • An Abscess is usually diagnosed from the signs and clinical examination.

    Laboratory tests may be required to determine the type of bacteria present, and their antibiotic sensitivity. This is especially so in the case of long term infections.

    Fungal infections can be diagnosed by culture of hairs or tissues.

  •  Bacterial infection: Abscess and long-standing skin infections

     Your veterinary surgeon will select the treatment appropriate to each individual case, but will usually include one or more of the following

    • Lancing, drainage and flushing of an abscess.
    • Removal of any foreign body.
    • Surgical removal of diseased tissue may be needed in the case of long-standing infections.
    • Antibiotic medication. For a straightforward abscess, an antibiotic course by injection and/or mouth for a few days may be sufficient. However, in long-standing infections or complex abscesses, a prolonged course of antibiotics for several weeks may be needed. Your veterinary surgeon will select an appropriate antibiotic, and length of treatment.
      • A common reason for antibiotic treatment failure is the owner not giving all the doses at the correct time and completing the full course of antibiotics. It is often very difficult to give tablets to a reluctant cat. The course should be completed even if the abscess wound looks a lot better. Alternative longer acting treatments are available and your veterinary surgeon will decide upon the best treatment regime.


    Several weeks of anti-fungal medication by mouth, possibly combined with clipping of the affected area and applying topical treatment or shampoos may be required. Treatment of all cats in the household will be required.


  • Early treatment of infections will prevent long-term changes to the skin. This will ensure a rapid onset abscess does not become a long-standing bacterial infection that is difficult to manage.

    Most cat fights, which are a common cause of abscesses, happen at night. Non castrated male cats tend to fight more. Keeping your cat indoors after dark may therefore reduce the risk of fighting.