One day you notice an unusual swollen lump somewhere on your cat as you gently stroke his fur. He's unhappy with your examination of the strange swelling, and it's painful when touched. This odd mound is an abscess, evidence that your cat has an injury that hasn't healed properly.
Cats usually develop abscesses following a fight, and even the most mild-mannered cat can turn into a biting, claw-bearing fiend in the throes of battle. Cat claws and teeth are crawling with bacteria and perfect for creating puncture wounds. When the skin closes over the wound, it traps the bacteria inside. This prompts the cat's immune system to send out white blood cells to fight off the invading bad guys, which creates a thick, usually ill-smelling pus inside the wound. The longer the battle wages on, the more pus is created. This can result in an abscess growing to many times the size of the actual wound.
Thar She Blows!
The good news is that the abscess usually does go away on its own, if given enough time. The bad news is that it will “go away” by rupturing, spewing forth all the collected pus and general icky substances the skin held inside. This helps relieve the pain and pressure your cat suffered as the abscess swelled, but doesn't address the actual injury itself. Without proper treatment, the skin could simply grow back over the original injury – which the now ruptured abscess prevented from healing – and form another abscess.
A tiny hole in your cat is the least of your worries if he doesn't receive treatment for an injury. In addition to the “normal” bacteria found on cat teeth and claws, there's always the possibility that some other illnesses may find their way into your cat, such as rabies or FIV. The longer an abscess goes untreated, the greater the chance that the bacteria may invade the nearest tissues, causing a deeper infection.
Better Safe Than Sorry
Many pet owners scoff at the idea of running Tiger to the vet just because he's gotten a little boo-boo during a scrap. Some even take it upon themselves to lance the abscess and encourage healing by keeping the wound clean and slathered with anti-biotic ointment. In some cases, this may work and life goes on with nary a bump. But not all abscesses are created equal and some may need more professional attention. At the very least, call your vet when you discover an abscess and ask for advice. She may want to check Tiger out to make sure the wound looks healthy and likely to heal properly.
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