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Abscess surgery would be the most common reason we would see sick cats. Cat abscesses are also why we highly recommend vaccinating outdoor cats against feline aids, even in preference to cat flu if a cat owner could not afford both vaccines.

When a cat (or dog) gets in a fight and the skin is penetrated, bacteria are lodged deep into the sub-cutaneous tissues or muscle. It is now a battle between the animals immune system and the bacteria. The “victim” may or may not develop what we call a “cellulitis” which is swollen infected tissue. This may or may not go on to develop an “abscess” which is our classic “pocket of pus” into which anti-biotics won’t penetrate and surgery for drainage is indicated.

Early intervention is the key to preventing an abscess and hence abscess surgery. If you are suspicious of a cat fight, then a quick trip to the vet and an anti-biotic injection in the first 24 hours will usually prevent an abscess from forming.

Once we have an abscess then surgery is indicated to drain the pus, as anti-biotics at this stage will not penetrate into the abscess. The other great advantage of surgery is that occasionally a claw or tooth will be found embedded within the tissue which would cause much greater problems at a later date if not removed. If the abscess is very large then we may place a penrose drain which holds the wound open for a few days after surgery, allowing it to continue to drain.

Anti-biotics are still indicated for a period of time dependent on the severity of the infection.

Cats may or may not be sick when they have an abscess. If they are unwell, off food or even vomiting, it may be that the patient has become septicaemic. This means that the bacteria are no longer just localized to the infected site but have travelled into the blood stream and throughout the whole patient. This is a far more serious situation and often happens when pet owners decide to let nature take it’s course and not treat the original infection. Sometimes this works, but if it doesn’t and we end up with a septicaemic patient, this can be potentially life threatening. Often it is advisable to have these patients on intravenous fluids and intravenous antibiotics for a few days.


To minimise chance of serious problems from fight wounds, vaccinate cats for feline aids and at the first sign of a fight, a quick visit to the vet and a single anti-biotic injection is all that is needed. If an infection is detected, don’t waste time in getting it properly treated.