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Cats Bite Wound Infections


FACTSHEET

 

 

 
 

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Why do cats fight?

Cats are very territorial. They fight with other cats to protect their territory or to acquire more territory. As a result, bite wounds are common in cats, especially when cats are allowed outside. These wounds frequently result in an infection that can be quite debilitating, especially if left untreated. Bite wounds are more common in male cats than in females.

 

I had my male cat neutered. Why is he still fighting?

The difference between neutered and intact male cats is the desire for more territory. Not only do intact tom cats claim an area around their home, but they continually try to expand the borders of their territory. Because of the desire for more territory and because they do not want intruders in their territory, they are constantly fighting with other cats.

 

In contrast, neutered cats seem content to claim a small area around or within their home. If their territory is breached by another cat, however, they will defend it by fighting. Female cats, whether intact or spayed, will also defend their territory.

 

How do cat and dog bite wounds differ?

When a dog bites a cat or another dog, he bites into the skin, clamps his teeth shut, and shakes his head. Usually the skin of the victim tears, leaving a large laceration. However, when a cat bites another cat, his teeth go through the skin, and then he releases quickly. This results in small puncture wounds in the skin, with holes about the same diameter as the cat's teeth. These holes seal within hours, trapping bacteria from the cat's mouth under the skin of the victim. Within 24 hours, the holes in the skin are almost impossible to find.

 

How does this result in an abscess?

The bacteria which are trapped under the skin can multiply for several days before any signs of infection become evident. Swelling and pain at the puncture site are the most common signs of infection. Many times, the first noticeable sign will be the appearance of draining pus or blood. Frequently the cat will also run a fever and stop eating.

 

If loose skin is present around the puncture sites, a pocket of pus will form an abscess. If the skin is not loose, such as on a foot or the tail, the infection spreads throughout the tissues and causes swelling and pain; this type of infection is called cellulitis.

 

How are bite wound infections treated?

Treatment of cat bite wounds varies. If you know that your cat has bite wounds from a fight, please make an appointment to have your cat seen at the hospital. Antibiotics given within 24 hours will usually stop spread of the infection and development of an abscess.

 

If several days have elapsed since the fight, an abscess will usually form. The pus must be drained through the bite wound hole or holes, or by incising the skin over the abscess. If surgery is needed the cat will be anesthetized and the site of the abscess surgically prepared by shaving and antiseptic cleaning. Dead and infected tissue are removed. The wound is either sutured closed or left open to drain and heal naturally (granulate in). Occasionally, a latex drain tube must be placed to keep the wound open and allow pus to drain out completely.

 

The longer you wait to have your cat seen, the worse the abscess will be. The abscess will continue to get bigger, the overlying skin will become devitalized (dead) and slough away. The infection will go deeper, entering the bloodstream and cause a septicemia (blood poisoning), or cause a bone infection. This makes treatment more complicated and more expensive, usually involving repeated medical and surgical treatments to close the skin and even cosmetic surgery. DO NOT DELAY IN BRINGING YOUR CAT WITH BITE WOUNDS TO A VETERINARIAN.

 

Antibiotics given by injection and/or by mouth complete the treatment. The abscess usually heals within 2-5 days. If cellulitis occurs instead of an abscess, drainage is not possible because the infection is not confined to a local area. In this case, antibiotics are the sole treatment. Cellulitis is slower to heal than an abscess but will usually take place within 3-7 days.

 

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Are there any other possible problems associated with bite wound infections?

Bite wounds are one of the main routes of transmitting the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) between cats. Because this virus is found in large amounts in the saliva of infected cats, bite wounds from these cats are literally injections of virus.

 

When a cat has a bite wound infection and has not been vaccinated against feline leukemia virus, it is recommended to test the cat for the presence of the virus. It will take at least 2-3 weeks before the leukemia virus infection is advanced enough to be detected. The test should be performed at that time. If the test is negative, you should vaccinate your cat against the virus.

 

The feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), sometimes referred to erroneously as the feline AIDS virus, is also transmitted by bite wounds. Because of an extended incubation period, the test for this virus may not become positive for many months, or even years. Therefore, testing in 2-3 weeks is not likely to be meaningful. However, if your cat has been in other fights, testing for this virus could detect an infection that began months earlier.

 

If a bite wound infection does not heal within a few days, it often becomes necessary to look for an underlying cause. Certain viruses, including the feline leukemia virus and the feline immunodeficiency virus, suppress the immune system and complicate the cat's recovery from infections. A blood test should be performed for the leukemia virus and the feline immunodeficiency virus; if these are negative, other tests may be needed to look for possible explanations.

 

What can I do to avoid an abscess in my cat?

  • Keep your cats indoors.

  • Neuter all male cats by 6 months of age.

  • Bring your cat to a veterinarian immediately if you notice an injury or wound, before it develops into an abscess.

  • Give antibiotics until gone, if so dispensed.

Instructions — after treatment:

  • Keep your cat indoors until the abscess has healed.

  • Give the entire course of antibiotics as prescribed.

  • Expect drainage from the abscess for a few days. The incision in the skin should close in 2-5 days. Keep the area clean, use hydrogen peroxide, and, if given, the antibiotic salve. Be aware of kitty litter contaminating the area.

  • Do not administer any over-the-counter drugs to your cat. Aspirin and Tylenol can be very toxic to cats.

  • Return in 2-3 weeks to test the cat for feline leukemia virus. If the test is negative, the leukemia virus vaccine should be given. Feline leukemia virus infection is preventable.

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