How to Treat Cat Abscess at Home
I feed several stray cats from my neighborhood. Quite a few of them will even let me carry them around and treat them like babies. The rest just run like mad at the sight of me. Whether they like me or not, they all still stop by and eat my food. I leave the food by a large barn in my backyard so the cats don’t overrun my porch and garage (seeing as how I am the only adult in my house that enjoys cats).
One of the cats I feed showed up the other day with a wound on the back of his neck. The wound looked like it went all the way down to the bone. The gaping hole had fur hanging to the side and it looked atrocious. I immediately thought this cat had been attacked by another animal or hit by a car. I called the vet and ran the cat in to see what could be done to minimize the poor things suffering. And guess what – the “poor thing” wasn’t suffering much at all. The vet explained to me that the most likely cause of the gaping wound was an abscess that had burst. An abscess is a localized infection filled with pus. The fact that the abscess had burst was a huge relief to the cat since the wound was no longer swollen and festering under his skin. The vet then explained how a cat gets an abscess, how to care for the abscess at home, and how to know when a vet’s medical attention is necessary. Yes, a vet’s treatment is always the best option for a cat – but if you are like me and you live on an old farm, you end up with numerous outdoor cats. You simply cannot afford to take to them to the vet for every booboo.
What a Cat Abscess Looks Like
The vet explained to me that a cat’s claws are filthy and are as sharp as tiny needles. The furry felines dig in dirt to go potty and they scratch up and down just about anything they can find, from dead critters to moldy trees. A cat’s skin is thick – especially an outdoor cat who had to develop thicker skin to withstand the elements. Cats tend to be very territorial and they fight using those filthy claws and their teeth. When a cat’s needle-like claws goes into another cat’s skin dirt and bacteria get pushed in along the way. When the cat’s claw is pulled back out the other cat’s thick skin seals together over the hole trapping the dirt and bacteria under the outermost layer of thick skin. It’s almost as though the inflicted cat got a germ injection. Now what do you think happens when the skin closes up over the germs and dirt? That’s right – an infection springs up and festers under the skin. The infection continues to grow under the cat’s skin until A) it bursts and sometimes leaves a gaping hole or B) a vet lances the wound to allow the bacteria and pus to exit.
Vet Speaking About Cat Abscess Care
If you don’t see a cat for a few days, because he was hiding to fight an infection you weren’t even aware of, and he finally shows up with a gaping wound what should you do? How can you help this poor animal even if you cannot afford a trip to the vet? You cannot just ignore the problem and hope the wound heals on its own. The odds of that happening are minimal. Unfortunately a cat’s skin heals from the outside in, meaning the new skin can close over the wound trapping dirt or germs that are still in the wound – and another abscess may grow. Hopefully you can bring the cat indoors for a few days to start the healing process – but with an outdoor / stray cat that isn’t always possible. An outdoor cat might yowl to get outside, he might spray your home, and he might claw up anything within his reach. My vet suggested I do the following for an outdoor cat that seems to be eating and behaving normally who cannot be brought indoors:
- If the abscess has not yet burst and it appears to be causing your cat great discomfort you can speed up the process by placing a hot washrag over the abscess GENTLY for 10 minutes a few times a day until the abscess opens and drains. DO NOT make the water so hot that it burns the cat. If it hurts your hands, don’t use it. You may need to reheat the washrag several times to keep it warm enough. Don’t be surprised if the cat fights this step the entire time - he is in discomfort and the swollen abscess is very tender.
- Try to gently trim away as much fur as possible from around the wound. This step will keep the fur from trapping dirt and germs that may enter the wound. You can use a grooming set of clippers or a small pair of first aid scissors.
- Once the abscess is draining you can help the discharge escape with light pressure. Be sure not to push too hard or you will hurt the cat. I choose not to do this step because I am afraid to hurt the cat. I let the wound clear on its own while gently wiping the area with a warm washrag to remove germs and other debris. Once the wound is finished draining you can proceed to the next step.
- Clean the wound out with warm water / peroxide solution (3% hydrogen peroxide). I use a baby medicine dropper or a syringe (without the needle of course!) to slowly and gently squirt the cleaning solution into the wound. The peroxide will bubble and the cat won’t like this step because the cleaning solution may sting a bit at first.
- Apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment after the wound has had time to dry.
- Place a bandage or vet wrap over or around the wound to keep it clean if the wound is large. However, most outdoor cats are not going to let you bandage them – heck you may be lucky just to get the cleaning solution in the wound. And really the bandage may only cause the cat more trouble in the long run for a cat that might not come back to you in a few days.
- If a scab appears to be growing too fast and you are worried it might trap bacteria under it you may need to de-bride the wound during cleaning – this consists of picking away the scab with your fingernail to let the wound heal from the inside out. The area may be painful to your cat. A soak of peroxide solution and water will soften the scab so it can be slowly and gently removed in a less painful manner. This was something I could never do because I was afraid I would hurt my cats. If the wound got to this point a trip to the vet was in order so she could do it for me. However, I have found that the wound did fine if I kept to the cleaning and antibiotic ointment schedule. IF the scab has been on for a couple days already LEAVE IT ALONE. The healing process has already started and you will only further injure the cat.
Perform the above steps 2 or 3 times a day for 3-4 days. My cats are on a feeding schedule of twice a day – morning and early evening to avoid the raccoons. Luckily my injured boy is food driven so I was able to clean his wound twice a day at feeding time – otherwise I would never find the cat! DONE
I have had great success using this method on my cats. There was only one time I had to take an outdoor cat to the vet – he was older and his wound stayed infected. He stopped eating and just loafed around more so than normal – he would go into such a deep sleep that he wouldn’t even budge when I called his name. It turned out the poor boy had a fever. The vet kept him for a few days to give him antibiotics and to keep an eye on his wound. That was 2 years ago and that specific cat is still running around healthy and happy.
Items to Keep in a Cat First Aid Kit
- Rubber gloves (medical grade)
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Vet wrap
- First aid scissors
- Medicine droppers or 3-6cc syringes (no needle!)
How to Diagnose a Cat Abscess
Most cat abscesses are the result of bites or scratches, mostly from an attacking animal.
Most abscesses will be found on the cat’s neck, front legs, or the tail/rump area.
Signs to look for include:
- Soft, painful swelling
- Foul-smelling discharge from a wound
- Lethargy and loss of appetite
When to Seek a Vet’s Assistance for a Cat Abscess
Anytime you are in doubt take the cat to a vet for a consultation. The vet will then either keep your cat and take care of the abscess or send you home with a list of instructions. I am by no means a vet, vet tech or vet assistant. This is information I have learned over the years and from my own vet. You should always seem veterinary attention if:
- The cat is more lethargic than normal
- The cat appears to be in any pain or distress
- The cat has lost its appetite or stopped eating
- The cat is vomiting (cats can dehydrate easily)
- The abscess does not stop draining within 48 hours
- The area wound is very large
Tips to Treating a Cat Abscess at Home
- If the cat won’t let you hold it for treatment try wrapping it in a towel (firmly but lovingly) to avoid getting scratched!
- Use rubber gloves to prevent getting an infection of your own should you have any open skin from paper cuts or scratches.
- If you are slick enough you can pet the cat while it eats and apply the cleaning solution and ointment this way.