A is for Abscess!
What is an abscess?
An abscess develops when bacteria get trapped under the skin, or within the body. The bacteria, plus the white blood cells sent by the body to tackle the infection, form a balloon of pus.
How do bacteria get there in the first place?
Usually, this is by a puncture wound of some sort.
Animal teeth and claws are the prime perpetrators, but sharp objects like thorns or barbed wire can cause a small penetrating wound - often not noticed because of your pet’s fur.
The skin heals over very quickly, but the bacteria from the teeth or claws are still there, under the skin.
The bacteria multiply, and the body’s own white blood cells arrive.
As the balloon of pus grows bigger, it becomes painful, and the bacteria can make your pet very poorly indeed.
Untreated, the bacteria can get into the blood stream and this can lead to sepsis.
What does an abscess look like?
Abscesses can be very small or very large, and may feel swollen and warm to touch. They are often extremely painful too.
All too often though, you won’t know it’s there, because you can’t see it under your pet’s fur.
The first you may know, is that your pet:
Growls if you stroke them over the site of the abscess
May be quiet or depressed
May go off their food, or even have vomiting or diarrhoea
Where can abscesses form?
An abscess from a cat bite is typically found around the tail area, but we can also get abscesses forming in blocked anal glands. Cats can sometimes gets abscesses on their legs and face too.
Dog bites tend to be around the neck or chest area, and we have to be very careful if a larger dog bites a smaller dog, as their teeth can sometimes go through the chest wall and into the lung space, causing a collapsed lung.
Abscess can form inside the body (these are more complicated to diagnose and treat), and abscesses from traumatic wounds (such as barbed wire, or broken glass) can form where the injury is. Tooth root abscesses may need the tooth extracting.
How do we diagnose an abscess?
Your vet will take a history, and examine your pet.
Sometimes, an abscess near the surface of the skin is straightforward to see, but a deeper abscess can’t be felt, and your pet may appear to be painful, or may be very poorly.
In these situations, your vet will need to rule out many other conditions, which could be causing the signs. (for example by using x-ray, blood samples, or ultrasound).
How do we treat an abscess?
A small abscess near the surface of the skin, in a pet that isn’t very poorly, may be able to heal with painkillers and antibiotics.
A larger abscess may need draining.
Anal gland abscess if not treated, can rupture, leading to a serious infection, and a lot of pain.
Any abscess can break open and discharge pus and blood.
A tooth root abscess may cause you pet to stop eating due to the pain when chewing, so we need to remove the damaged/diseased tooth, and drain the pus.
Therefore, we treat abscesses depending on the type, location, and how poorly your pet is.
What should I do if I think my pet has an abscess?
Abscesses should be examined by a vet as soon as possible, as if untreated, the abscess will cause pain, it could rupture, or it could cause sepsis.
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What should I do after the abscess has been treated?
Follow your vets instructions.
Medicines should be given as directed, and you should complete the course.
Your pet will start to feel better, that’s the sim of giving the medication, but just because they perk up, doesn’t mean you should stop the medicine. Stopping too soon could make the abscess linger on and take even longer to heal.
Keep you cat indoors, until your vet says it’s ok to go back to normal activity. A poorly cat can’t run away from dogs/other cats/cats etc if they are under the weather.
Over exertion when your dog is poorly, could make them even more poorly, so keep your dog on short, slow lead walks, until your vet says it’s ok to go back to normal activity.
If you are worried - always call your vet. If your vet is closed, you should still call, as all veterinary clinics in the U.K. have a dedicated out of hours veterinary service, so you can always see a vet, whatever the time, day or night. Even on Christmas Day.
What should you not do?
Do not leave your pet if they are painful, or poorly, as this will only make their condition worse (and harder to treat) and it is against the Animal Welfare Act to allow suffering.
Do not try and lance the abscess yourself. There may be arteries and veins under the skin which you might cut. A vet know when and where it is safe to cut the skin.
Cutting the skin requires sedation, or local anaesthetic, your pet will also need immediate pain relief, and antibiotics too.
Compressing an abscess can cause extreme pain, and may cause it to rupture internally.
Do not give adult or children’s medications, as they can be fatal to dogs and cats.