Paws and Effect

A recurring abscess is a painful condition, but it can be treated with the right tools.

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

My cat got outside and got in a fight with another cat. He developed an abscess from being bitten. I took him to the vet and had the abscess drained. The vet gave me antibiotics, and he seemed to get better. Then, a couple of weeks later, the abscess reappeared again. Back to the vet we went, and the abscess was drained a second time and I got more antibiotics. Once again, it cleared up. But now the abscess is back, and I don’t know what to do. Help!

~ Abby

Thomas: Well, Abby, abscesses are a frequent complication of cat bites. As much as we hate to admit it, we cats have lots of nasty bacteria in our mouths.

Bella: And when a cat bites another cat, those bacteria get driven deep into the tissues. And because there’s only a tiny hole, the infection grows in a pocket under the skin until it gets big enough to be noticed.

Tara: Sometimes the abscess even bursts. And that’s nasty!

Thomas: The typical treatment for an abscess is that the vet drains the pus out of the wound, flushes it with an anti-germ liquid, and then prescribes antibiotics to fight the infection.

Bella: You may also have to continue to flush the wound when you get home from the vet. If that’s the case, the vet will show you how.

Tara: That usually clears up the infection and makes the abscess go away. But sometimes it doesn’t.

Thomas: In that case, the vet might have to take more steps. First of all, they may have to open the wound all the way up so the infected tissue underneath is exposed. Then they’ll have to do what’s called debridement.

Bella: What that means is that the vet removes and scrapes away all the infected tissue, leaving only healthy tissue.

Tara: That way, when the skin grows back, there’s no infection left underneath.

Thomas: This is done under anesthesia or heavy sedation, so it’ll probably cost more than having the abscess drained.

Bella: But in the long run, it will cost less than going back to the vet again and again to have the wound drained.

Tara: And your kitty will feel better, sooner.

Thomas: After surgery, your vet will want to do three to 10 days of treatment and observation.

Bella: Your cat will need to wear an Elizabethan collar during that time so he doesn’t lick or bite at the wound.

Tara: Awww! The cone of shame? Poor kitty!

Thomas: Yes, but it’s important for healing, and it’s only for a week or so.

Bella: Your vet may also want to have a culture and sensitivity test done. What that means is they take some of the pus or fluid from the abscess and put it in a “nutrient soup.” They wait overnight and see what kind of bacteria grew in the wound. That’s the “culture” part.

Tara: Once they’ve grown a bunch of bacteria in the nutrient soup, they can test how different antibiotics work to kill the bacteria. That’s the “sensitivity” part.

Thomas: Once they know which antibiotics can cure the infection, the wound will heal a lot better.

Bella: Of course, you have to remember to give your kitty the full course of antibiotics, even if the abscess appears to be healing or healed.

Tara: If you don’t, there will be some bacteria left over that didn’t die. Those bacteria will reproduce and be resistant to the antibiotic you used before.

Thomas: In some rare cases, the bacteria that infect the wound are a genus called Mycoplasma. These bacteria are not sensitive to most antibiotics and may require very specific treatment. That’s why the culture and sensitivity test is so important.

Bella: But with appropriate treatment, including opening the wound and debriding infected tissue, followed by antibiotics that are known to kill whatever bacteria are in there, the abscess should heal and not come back.

Tara: We hope that helps, Abby. Abscesses are no fun!

Thomas: What about you other readers? Have you had a cat with a recurring abscess? What did your vet do to treat it, and how is your cat now? Please sound off in the comments!

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