How do I treat cat wounds or cat bite infection?
By: Ernest E. Ward, Jr., DVM
Why do cats fight?
- Cats are very territorial by nature.
- To protect his or her territory or to acquire more territory, your cat may fight with other cats. As a result, a brutal cat fight can occur occasionally. See Aggressive Behavior in Dogs and Cats.
- Over 90% of cat wound infection cases result from cat bites sustained during a fight with another cat. Dog, rat and other rodent bites are much less common.
- Cat wounds are more common in male cats than females, and intact (un-neutered) males are the most common fighters.
- If left untreated, a cat bite infection often results in making the cat very ill.
My male cat has been neutered. Why does he still fight?
- Neutered male cats still want to defend a small territory around their home. So if another cat invades this territory, your cat will defend it by fighting.
- Even female cats fight with other cats to defend their territory.
What can I do to stop my cat from being bitten?
- Neutering may reduce territorial fighting, but will not completely stop it.
- The easiest solution is to keep your cat indoors, where there’s no exposure to other cats.
- If your pet is an outdoor cat, try to keep it indoors at night, when most cat fights tend to occur.
What happens if my cat is bitten?
To avoid infection, call your veterinarian immediately for advice. The reason is…
- Cat bites can leave deep wounds in the skin. These punctures rapidly seal over, trapping bacteria from the other cat’s mouth under the skin of the victim, where they can readily multiply. You may not see the puncture wound, but if your cat’s leg was bitten, your cat may limp. Some bitten cats may just be lethargic (low energy), have a fever, or groom the injured area excessively.
- Bacteria can turn into an infection that may go unnoticed for several days.
- Eventually, swelling and pain at the puncture site develops, and your cat may develop a fever.
- Plus, a pocket of pus may develop around the wound, forming an abscess. If a pocket of skin isn’t formed (such as in the lower leg or tail), the infection spreads through the tissues and causes cellulitis.
- In rare cases, cat bites result in serious conditions such as
- septic arthritis (infection of a joint space)
- osteomyelitis (infection of bone)
- pyothorax (the chest cavity fills with pus)
- See First Aid for Dog and Cat Emergency Care for additional help.
What will my vet do?
- To stop the spread of infection and prevent an abscess from developing, your veterinarian will give your cat antibiotics; hopefully within 24 hours of the bite. Be sure to give your cat the entire antibiotic treatment as prescribed!
- If an abscess is present, your veterinarian will drain and flush the injured site. (Sedation or anesthesia may be necessary.)
- If cellulitis is present, drainage is not possible.
How long will it take for the bite wound to heal?
With appropriate treatment, most abscesses should heal within 5-7 days. Swelling associated with cellulitis can take longer.
Be sure to follow your veterinarian’s at-home instructions exactly so the wound can heal. If your cat isn’t treated at home according to instructions, an infection recurrence can occur.
If the infected wound does not heal within a few days despite your best efforts, your veterinarian may want to run further tests to see if there’s an underlying cause, such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV). Bite wounds are the main route of transmitting these dangerous viruses, so your veterinarian will run blood tests to diagnose them.
Why does my cat keep getting abscesses in the same place?
- This may occur if the treatment isn’t being followed or working as planned.
- Or, your cat may be a frequent fighter who repeatedly gets bitten in the tail (or other area where the abscesses occur).
The good news is – your veterinarian can help you treat cat bite wounds successfully for a full recovery.
Call your vet immediately if you know your cat has been bitten or if you see the signs described in the above information.