Cat bite abscess in cats

Cat bite abscesses are an extremely common condition in cats. They are swellings filled with pus, mostly found around the face, head, neck, and tail. Cat bite abscesses can affect any cat but are most common in younger, outdoor, male, unneutered cats. 


The cause of a cat bite abscess is a bite or scratch wound from another cat. The abscess then forms under the skin after a few days. Cat bite abscesses can look and smell disgusting, but they are usually not serious and should resolve quickly with appropriate treatment.



What is a cat bite abscess in cats?

A cat bite abscess is an infection under the skin

  • They are caused by a bite or scratch wound from another cat 
  • Cats mouths and nails are full of bacteria, and this transfers deep into the skin during a fight or attack
  • This leads to a swelling filled with pus and blood, which may rupture open
  • They usually resolve quickly with appropriate treatment, within 1-2 weeks

If your cat has been in a fight or has developed any swelling, contact a veterinarian to discuss the best course of action. Our Joii vets are available 24 hours a day for advice. 


Other common types of abscesses in cats

  • Foreign bodies, such as grass seeds or sticks
  • Tooth root abscess, find out more about Bad breath
  • Anal gland abscess
  • Tumours leading to secondary infection



Symptoms of a cat bite abscess in cats

Signs of a cat bite abscess may take several days to develop after a fight or attack.

  • Swelling of the skin
  • The skin may be hot to the touch and red
  • Pain, especially around the skin swelling.
  • Puncture wounds on the skin from teeth or claws are not always seen as they heal quickly
  • A large open wound with fresh blood or pus, usually smelly if the abscess has ruptured.
  • Not eating or drinking
  • Lethargy, sleeping more than normal
  • Fever
  • Limping


cat bite abscesses in cats
Swelling of the skin is a common symptom


cat bite abscess symptoms
If the abscess ruptures, you may see pus and crusting


cat bite abscess signs and symptoms photo
Cats with abscesses are often lethargic and have a reduced appetite



Are some cats at more risk of cat bite abscesses than others?

Cat bite abscesses result from a bite or scratch from another cat. Any cat that has been in a fight is at risk. The following groups are more at risk: 

  • Entire male cats that go outdoors are more likely to roam and fight.
  • Cats with weaker immune systems, such as those with FIV (Feline immunodeficiency virus) or diabetes. Their bodies find it more difficult to fight off infections.



How is a cat bite abscess diagnosed in cats?

Cat bite abscesses are usually diagnosed based on their appearance and the presence of certain symptoms, such as a high temperature or lethargy. Further tests are not common but may include

  • A needle sample can confirm pus within the swelling
  • Your vet might also recommend testing for FIV or FeLV, as these can be spread by cat bites or scratches 
  • General blood tests to check the overall health of your cat

If the abscess is not healing as it should within 1-2 weeks, your vet may recommend further investigation. This could be a skin biopsy, imaging, or sending off a sample of the discharge to determine what bacteria are present. 


Vet treatment

Vet treatment for a cat bite abscess in cats

The most common medications used for cat bite abscesses are

  • Antibiotics: by injection, orally or topically
  • Pain relief and anti-inflammatory medication


Cat bite abscesses that are still swollen or have not ruptured usually require surgery

  • Sedation or general anaesthesia is required
  • The hair is clipped, then the abscess is lanced (cut open) and cleaned out thoroughly to check for any foreign material, such as nails or teeth. 
  • A drain might be needed to help with removal of discharge after the procedure.
  • The wound may be stitched up or left open to heal.
  • Antibiotics and pain relief during and after the procedure


Left untreated, cat bite abscesses may heal on their own, but this is not common. Always seek advice from a veterinarian, as this condition is painful. 


Home treatment

Home remedies for a cat bite abscess in cats

Once lanced open and cleaned by your vet, it is important to keep the wound clean and prevent self-trauma

  • Saline bathe (1 tsp salt/500 ml cooled boiled water) the area 1-2 times daily and keep dry afterwards
  • Allow your cat to rest to help the wound heal; this may mean keeping them indoors
  • Use a buster collar to prevent licking, which can cause further infection
  • Feed a balanced, palatable diet to help improve your cat’s appetite
  • Use a warm compress to help ease some discomfort, especially if the swelling has not yet ruptured

Make sure to follow the directions on any medication prescribed by your veterinarian, and do not stop the medication early unless advised otherwise. 

Our Joii team are available 24 hours a day if you have any questions.


Tips on how to prevent cat bite abscesses in cats

  • Neuter your cat to reduce the risk of fighting
  • If your cat develops repeated cat bite abscesses, it may be best to keep them indoors or only let them outside when monitored

Is my family at risk of catching cat bite abscesses?

Cat bite abscesses are not contagious. Cats can bite humans, and this carries it’s own risks. Contact your doctor as soon as possible if you have been bitten by a cat. 


When to worry

When you should be worried about a cat bite abscess in cats

Seek help from a vet if:

  • Your cat has an open wound with pus
  • Your cat has not been eating or drinking for over 24 hours
  • Your cat has been bitten near a joint


Call us and speak to one of our Joii Vets if:

  • Your cat has suddenly developed a swelling
  • Your cat has not been eating or drinking for less than 24 hours
  • Your cat is limping
  • Your cat has been in a fight and you are unsure what to do next
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