Cat bite abscesses

Cat on white background

Overview

  • Has your cat been fighting? Do they seem a bit 'under the weather'?
  • If they’ve been bitten or scratched, it’s possible that they might have a painful cat bite abscess forming.
  • Cat bite abscesses are most common on the tail, top of the head, legs, face and neck.
  • Although it’s rare, cat bites and scratches can also put your cat at risk of diseases such as FeLV/FIV.
  • Contact your vet for advice if you think your cat has an abscess.

General information

Teeth and claws are covered in nasty bacteria, so bites and scratches very often lead to painful infections or abscesses. Although rare, bites and scratches can also spread disease such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV). Cat bites and scratches can sometimes cause very serious infections in people. Always seek medical advice from your doctor if you have been bitten or badly scratched by a cat.

Photo of a burst cat bite abscess on a cat's face

Symptoms

If often takes two - four days for an abscess to develop, so before you see a swelling, you may notice other symptoms such as:

Symptoms of an abscess include:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Wounds (bite marks/a large wound if the abscess has burst)
  • A floppy tail – common if the tail base has been bitten
  • Limping – ranging from mild to severe
  • Pain – (being quiet, aggressive, repeatedly licking one area, growling, twitching or not letting your near them)
photo of cat bite wound on a tabby cat's head

Cat bite wound on a cat's head

When to contact your vet

Always contact your vet for advice if your cat has symptoms of a cat bite abscess or seems unwell.

 

Treatment

Treatment will depend on how your cat is in him/herself and the severity of their wound. Treatment may include:

  • Lancing the abcess – to release pus
  • Anti-inflammatories to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Antibiotics for the infection (not always necessary - your vet will advise)
  • Cleaning – it's likely that your vet will ask you to clean your cat's wound twice daily using a salt water and cotton wool.
Illustration showing how to make saltwater solution

You can make saline solution at home. Click image to enlarge.

Outlook

If your vet is able to drain the abscess, your cat will immediately feel more comfortable. Then, if you keep the area clean, the infection should start to clear and fully heal within heal within a week or so. Contact your vet if your cat seems unwell during this time, or their abscess doesn’t seem to be healing.

Prevention

Neutering is the best way to prevent fights and cat bite abscesses. Neutered cats are less likely to roam and fight - for more information, read our our guide on neutering and preventing cat fights.

Are cat bites and scratches dangerous to people?

Yes, cat bites and scratches can cause serious infections in humans if they break the skin. If you have been bitten or badly scratched, seek advice from your doctor/refer to the NHS website.

Cost

Treatment for a cat bite abscess can be an unexpected cost at any point throughout your cat’s life. Consider insuring your cat as soon as you get them, before any problems develop. This will ensure you have all the support you need to care for them.

Published: October 2020

Emergency Appeal

In this time of crisis, our front-line staff are working hard to ensure we're still there for the UK's most vulnerable pets. We need your support now more than ever to keep our doors open.

PetWise Pet Health Hub – brought to you thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery 

Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only.

Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst