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Abscesses in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatment

Dorsi is a freelance writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She cares for her beloved Border Collie named Karma.

How to Manage Abscesses in Dogs

How to Manage Abscesses in Dogs

What to Do If Your Dog Has an Abscess

My five-year-old Border Collie dog was diagnosed with an abscess. 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, but the veterinarian thought that the abscess might have been caused by an insect bite. 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 10 days for a recheck, but within two days, her abscess came to a head and drained. Four days later, she was 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 that abscesses in a dog can be extremely painful, so don't be surprised by the behavioral changes in your pet.

Causes of Abscesses in Dogs

The causes of an abscess on your dog can be related to any of the following:

  • animal bites
  • punctures
  • bacteria in a wound
  • insect bites
  • more serious bites such as a snake bite (see your vet immediately)
This is Karma's abscess after 4 days; healing well. Dogs can get abscesses by getting bit by insects, among other things.

This is Karma's abscess after 4 days; healing well. Dogs can get abscesses by getting bit by insects, among other things.

Symptoms of Abscesses in Dogs

  • redness
  • loss of appetite
  • swelling
  • a hard lump that comes on suddenly
  • listlessness
  • increased licking of one area
  • behavioral changes
  • fever
  • pain/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.

How Are They Treated?

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). Pain killers may be also be given to lessen your dog's pain (Karma was put on Meloxicam once daily).

How Are They Diagnosed?

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. If the abscess has not ruptured, you can put warm compresses on the area to bring the abscess to a head. Some abscesses may even go down and be reabsorbed into the dog's body without rupturing. If the abscess starts to drain, call your veterinarian for advice.

If it ruptures and drains:

  • Get clean towels and wear gloves when cleaning up the fluid.
  • If you choose to, gently squeeze the area that is draining. It may open up and start to ooze. Make sure you keep the site clean and that it drains in a clean 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.
  • Clean the wound with a vet-approved disinfectant like diluted chlorhexidine solution.
  • Keep your dog in a calm and clean area. You can dab the site with clean gauze to catch any more drainage.
  • Make sure you give your dog the full round of antibiotics as prescribed.

If the abscess does not rupture on its own, your vet may be needed to lance it. A drain will be inserted into the site to let the pus drain out. If it has already ruptured, your veterinarian may advise you to follow the aforementioned steps. Best of luck and share your story below.

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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.

© 2012 Dorsi Diaz


Dorsi Diaz (author) from The San Francisco Bay Area on June 01, 2012:

Thanks Jools!

Jools Hogg from North-East UK on June 01, 2012:

Excellent video and so pleased she's on the mend!

Dorsi Diaz (author) from The San Francisco Bay Area on May 31, 2012:

@Nell) Thanks for the feedback. I really appreciate it. Karma is on the mend and back to her sweet spunky self.

@KD) Thank you so much!

KDuBarry03 on May 30, 2012:

I am so happy Karma is doing much better after the abscess has been drained! She is such a sweet dog, from your videos. I am glad everything is okay now :)


Nell Rose from England on May 30, 2012:

Poor little thing, but a really great video. Its amazing how a spider or even a midge can cause that. great info and it was good to see it up close like that so that anybody else with a dog or another animal can see exactly what it is and what to do, voted up! cheers nell

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