Abscesses: what to do if your pet has one

Abscesses are nasty swellings that may appear on or inside your pet’s body. These include abscesses on the skin, of the teeth or even on their organs.

Note the large abscess on the dog’s neck

An abscess is a localised accumulation of pus in response to a bacterial infection. As part of the body’s defence mechanism lots of white blood cells are produced to fight the bacteria. When these white blood cells die off,  pus is formed. Initially the abscess area will be hard, warm and painful. Over time it becomes more fluid, the skin becomes thin and ruptures allowing the pus to drain out.

Abscesses can also occur inside the body,  in the liver or lungs. Affected pets will often not eat, be lethargic and run a fever. If an internal abscess ruptures you can end up with a spread of infection as bacteria gets absorbed in the bloodstream and spreads through the rest of the body.

Abscesses: what causes them

The most common cause of an abscess is bite wounds. This is true especially in cats, particularly unfettered male cats who get into fights. Penetrating foreign bodies like a stick or grass seed can also cause an abscess to form. Certain tissues or organs are common sites for abscesses to develop.

• Bite wounds or penetrating wounds cause subcutaneous abscesses

• Impacted anal glands forms anal gland abscesses

• Damaged teeth or periodontal disease lead to tooth root abscesses

• Unneutered males can develop an abscess in the prostate gland

• Blood borne infections can lead to abscesses forming in the liver

• Inhaled foreign bodies or severe pneumonia leads to lung abscesses

• Inner ear infections or infection in the sinuses can cause brain abscesses.

Once the abscess is removed, drained and cleaned, your vet may insert a drain to ensure any fluid build up continues to drain

Abscesses: recommended treatment

Treatment depends on the location and severity of the infection.

It usually involves drainage and flushing of the affected area. Sometimes the entire abscess needs to be surgically removed. Antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and painkillers will also be prescribed.

How can I prevent my pet from developing an abscess?

• Clean and disinfect any wounds and seek veterinary attention.

• Neutering your pet can prevent prostate abscesses and also reduce fighting and prevent bite wounds.

• Good dental hygiene and regular dental check ups at your vet will reduce tooth root abscesses. It also important to avoid letting your pets chew on hard objects like sticks or bones as this is the number one cause of tooth fractures.

Early stage prevention

If the abscess is still in the early stages, applying a warm compress will help with pain and swelling and might speed up the abscessing becoming soft, at which point your vet can safely drain it.

If the abscess has already ruptured, flush the area with saline and keep it clean until you can take your pet to see your vet.

Article by Dr Esmaré van der Walt, EberVet Pet Clinic