Cat Abscess Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

Cat Abscess

Cat abscesses are a common malady. An observant cat owner may notice a fluctuant swelling under the cat’s skin as the initial sign of an abscess. Other times the abscess may already have opened and drained, leaving an open wound on your cat’s skin. Your cat may also be lethargic, not eating very well, painful, and irritable. There will usually be a fever as well.

What Causes an Abscess for a Cat?

A cat abscess is essentially an infected wound. Any wound can become infected. However, the most common cause of cat abscesses are bite wounds from fighting with another animal.

As the infection in the wound progresses, pus begins to accumulate in the area of the wound. The skin may already have healed over, causing a pocket of pus to accumulate underneath the skin. As pus continues to accumulate, eventually the pressure will reach a point where it will cause the skin to rupture resulting in drainage of the abscess.

Often, unless the infection is controlled, the abscess will drain, heal over, and then drain again repeatedly.

How Are Cat Abscesses Diagnosed?

Diagnosis is usually straight forward based on the appearance of the wound itself or the fluctuant swelling under the skin. If there is doubt, your veterinarian may tap the swelling to withdraw some of the fluid for identification purposes. The fluid is easily recognized as pus.

Even though diagnosis is straight forward, your veterinarian may advise additional testing. Performing a culture and sensitivity on the pus withdrawn from the abscess may be recommended in order to identify the bacteria causing the infection and identify the best antibiotic for treatment. This may become particularly important if the abscess does not heal despite empirical antibiotic therapy.

Your veterinarian may also advise a blood screen to evaluate the overall health of your cat and check for feline leukemia and feline AIDS.

How Is an Abscess Treated for a Cat?

If the abscess is not already open and draining, it will need to be lanced and drained. Your veterinarian will shave the area surrounding the abscess and then clean the area. The abscess will be flushed to remove any remaining pus from under the skin. These procedures may require sedation or anesthesia for your cat.

Antibiotics will be necessary to control the infection causing the abscess. Pain medication may also be necessary. Be sure to follow all directions carefully and to finish any prescriptions supplied by your veterinarian for your cat. Do not stop giving the antibiotics before the prescription is finished.

Your cat may also require a vaccination against rabies if it is suspected that the wound is a result of a fight with an unidentified animal.

Can Abscesses Be Prevented?

It may not be possible to completely remove the risk of an abscess for your cat, but the risk can be greatly reduced by keeping your cat indoors.

In a household with more than one cat, taking steps to reduce aggression between cats will help reduce the risk also. Being certain that all of your cat’s environmental needs are met will help with this. Make sure that there are an adequate number of food and water stations and that there are enough litter boxes in the home. Provide scratching surfaces for all cats as well as perches and resting places. Be sure there are plenty of toys available for each cat also.

Photo courtesy of maumu maureate/

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About Lorie Huston, DVM

Lorie Huston, DVM has written 88 posts in this blog.

Lorie Huston is a veterinarian with 20+ years of experience with dogs and cats. She is also a talented free-lance author and blogger and has contributed to numerous publications, including Pet Sitter's WORLD, FIDOFriendly, Dancing Dog Blog, Dawg Business and many others. Lorie is the featured pet care writer at, a contributing writer in Dog and Cat Diseases and Conditions at and the National Pet Health Examiner at In addition, she is a host of the popular podcast/review site, Animal Cafe.

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