Abscesses in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatment
Photo of a dog abscess
What Causes an Abscess?
My 5-year-old border collie dog was diagnosed with an abscess recently. The veterinarian thought that the abscess might have been caused by an insect bite. Karma's left side continued to swell over the course of a few days and I was afraid that she had some type of intestinal blockage or tumor. After taking a radiograph and seeing that the swelling was all outside of her rib cage, the veterinarian took a small biopsy of the lump and discovered the area had pus in it. He put her on antibiotics and a pain killer and sent her home. The follow-up instructions were to bring her back in ten days for a recheck, but within two days her abscess came to a head and drained. Now four days later, she is healing well and on the road to recovery.
Below, I've included the causes, symptoms, and routine treatment for a dog abscess and things you can do to help your dog through this traumatic time. Keep in mind, abscesses in a dog can be extremely painful, so don't be surprised by the behavioral changes in your pet.
Causes of an abscess on your dog can be related to any of the following:
- animal bites
- bacteria in a wound
- insect bites
- more serious bites such as a snake bite (see your vet immediately)
Symptoms of dog abscesses can include:
- loss of appetite
- a hard lump that comes on suddenly
- increased licking of one area
- behavioral changes
- painful to the touch
- drainage from the wound
- loss of hair around the lump
If the abscess has not yet ruptured you will just see a lump without any drainage.
If the abscess has not yet ruptured, your veterinarian may take a "wait and see" approach like mine did and put your dog on antibiotics to fight the infection (Karma was prescribed Cephalexin 500 mg, twice a day). Some abscesses may go down and be reabsorbed into the dog's body without rupturing. The veterinarian can take a sample of the abscess by withdrawing pus from the area to find out what type of bacteria is causing the infection. Pain killers may be given to lessen your dog's pain (Karma was put on Meloxicam once daily).
If the abscess has not ruptured, you can put warm compresses on the area to bring the abscess to a head and help fight the infection. If the abscess starts to drain, call your veterinarian for advice or do the following:
- Get clean towels, wear gloves and have some hydrogen peroxide handy.
- Gently squeeze the area that is draining. It may open up and start to ooze. Make sure you keep the abscess clean and drain it in a sterile environment.
- Don't let the dog lick the area. This can introduce more bacteria and will take the wound longer to heal.
- Put a collar on your dog to stop him/her from licking the area if possible.
- After the pus has been drained, leave the wound open to further drain.
- Clean the wound with hydrogen peroxide or a disinfectant solution such as povidone iodine or chlorhexidine.
- Keep your dog in a calm and clean area. You can also put a light gauze bandage on the open area to catch any more drainage.
- Make sure you give your dog the full round of antibiotics.
If the abscess does not rupture on its own, surgery may be needed to lance the abscess. A drain will be inserted into the site to let the pus drain out. If the dog's abscess has already ruptured, your veterinarian may advise you to follow the aforementioned steps.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
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© 2012 Dorsi Diaz