It's that season again - the season, that is, for outdoor cats to get into fights with each other and develop abscessed bite wounds.
Starting with the winter solstice in late December and fading away in late summer, cats experience a breeding season that brings out their worst territorial instincts. While intact males tend to be the instigators of most fights, and the most aggressive participants, any cat whether male or female, spayed or neutered or intact, can get into a fight and receive a dangerous bite wound from the other cat.
The typical feline bite wound is small in diameter but has substantial depth. Within a few hours, the skin puncture seals over, leaving bacteria and debris behind in the underlying tissues. Bacterial infection, usually with Pasteurella multocida, begins quickly, and within 3 to 7 days a swelling develops.
Listlessness, fever, swelling, limp (if on a leg), and a draining lesion with foul-smelling pus are common consequences of an infected fight wound. The abscess lesion almost always requires aggressive surgical treatment, which can be expensive. But there is good news: if you are aware of a bite wound or even a fight with no visible wounds in your cat, if you present it for treatment right away, we can prevent the development of most abscesses with a simple course of antibiotics.
A new antibiotic injection has recently become available for use in bite wounds in cats in the US which does away with the need to send oral antibiotics home with the patient. We all know how much people love to give medications to their cats! So this drug is a fantastic development.
Abscess surgery almost always requires overnight hospitalization, and in addition to removal of dead tissue and flushing the wound thoroughly, often requires placement of a cloth drain to keep pus from reaccumulating. At least one post-op recheck is customary to ensure healing is proceeding as expected.
The take-home message: bite wound abscesses are largely preventable by neutering, housing indoors, and prompt treatment of any fresh bite wounds. If you have housecats who get along well with each other, you'll probably never have this particular expense to worry about.