Go into any urban neighborhood at night, and you can hear them shrieking and hissing and spitting! That’s cats for you. They love a good fight! Roaming tomcats really love to dig into their opponent so they can claim the turf and lady cats for themselves. Unfortunately, all this cat fighting leads to cat bite wounds.
It is actually quite interesting to think about the way cats have evolved. All that loose skin has developed for a reason! Having distensible skin has allowed cats to adapt so that when they are grabbed in a fight, there is a lot of give. This has probably saved the skin of a more than a few young scrappers! Loose overlying skin also allows the area to accommodate abscess development. The flaps of skin stretch out as pus fills the pocket formed around the tooth entry wounds, and this allows the cat to get along better than animals like us or dogs where tight skin means significant pain and lost mobility if a pus pocket develops. It is not unusual for a cat to continue to go out and roam about with a big pus pouch, and unless the client notices a swelling (may be tough, especially in longhairs) or the cat’s fever reduces appetite and activity enough to be noticed, sometimes an abscess can go unnoticed for quite a while!
If a bite wound does become infected, there can be serious consequences so if you see a painful swelling, lameness, pus in the hairs, or the cat is lethargic or has reduced appetite, prompt veterinary attention is important. First, swelling begins under the skin at the wound site, then pressure eventually forces the pocket to burst, releasing pus out into the haircoat.
All bite wounds should be examined by your veterinarian due to the high probability of infection. Cat’s mouths are filled with bacteria and a bite serves to “seed” the bacteria into the tissues where they can easily multiply. Even a very small wound can lead to a life threatening infection. Deep puncture wounds are the worst offenders—and the most difficult to see in the fur! The sooner a bite is seen, the more likely it will heal without complications.
Normally, an abscess or cellulitis (where infection spreads throughout tissue planes without forming a pus pocket) needs to be treated with an antibiotic. An abscess is lanced under anesthesia, and the pocket thoroughly flushed. Sometimes, the veterinary surgeon may elect to place a drainage tube into the area for a period of a few days after surgery to allow continued drainage of the toxic pus. If the pocket is deep, or extends along tissue planes, it may take quite a long time to obtain full healing. If the pocket has placed considerable pressure on the overlying skin, an area of skin may die off and need to be removed during surgery.
Deep punctures can extend into important structures like chest and damage important blood vessels, nerves, or extend into the abdomen. This can be a real problem, as in cases when a large dog attacks a cat or kitten. These wounds can be life threatening.
The type of bacteria that move into a wound will vary. Usually, one type gets the upper hand and starts to multiply in the injured area. A culture of the area taken before clean up will help the veterinarian prescribe the most effective antibiotic. Treatment for serious wound infections may need to continue for quite a while in order to fully clear the infection. In mild infections that have been caught early, just a good flush and clean may do the job!
Note that cat bite wounds can also spread very deadly chronic virus infections that affect the whole body of the cat, such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), so you should have your cat tested for these infections if a bite wound has occurred. Though vaccines are available to protect against these viruses, the only way to completely eliminate the risk of picking up these nasty infections is to keep Kitty indoors!
You can tell if your kitty is the aggressor or the scaredy cat by the location of the wounds—top cats will usually grab scaredy at the back end as he tries to run away.