Cellulitis and Abscesses in Cats- Symptoms, Types and Treatments

Cellulitis is an inflammation involving the deep layers of the skin. Most cases are caused by animal bites or scratches (such as wounds inflicted during cat fights). Puncture wounds allow bacteria to become established beneath the epidermis. Infection can be prevented in many fresh wounds if proper care is taken within the first few hours.

The signs of skin cellulitis include pain (tenderness to pressure), warmth (it feels hotter than normal), firmness (it's not as soft as it should be), and change in color (it appears redder than it should be). As the infection spreads from the wound into the lymphatic system, you may see red streaks in the skin and be able to feel enlarged lymph nodes in the groin, armpit, or neck.

Skin abscesses are localized pockets of pus beneath the surface of the skin. Pimples, pustules, furuncles, and boils are examples of small abscesses. The signs are the same as those for cellulitis, except that an abscess feels like fluid under pressure.

Treatment: Localize the infection by clipping away the hair and applying warm soaks three times a day for 15 minutes each. If hot packs are applied to an area of cellulitis, the heat and moisture assist the natural defenses of the body to surround the infection and make it come to a head. The skin over the top of an abscess thins out and ruptures, allowing the pus to be evacuated. Then the pocket heals from below. Ideally, an abscess should be kept open so that it heals from the inside out and does not close over prematurely, in which case a secondary abscess will form.

Pimples, pustules, furuncles, boils, and other small abscesses that do not drain spontaneously need to be lanced by your veterinarian. He or she will flush the cavity with a dilute antiseptic solution to keep it open and draining until it heals from below. Foreign bodies (such as splinters) beneath the skin must be removed with forceps because they are a continuous source of infection.

Antibiotics are used to treat wound infections, cellulitis, and abscesses. Most skin bacteria respond well to a variety of antibiotics, but cultures and antibiotic sensitivity tests may be needed to select the best drug.

This article is excerpted from “Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.