Cat Abscesses: The Low Down

Cats typically have a hate-hate relationship with any strange cat in their presence, yard, or environment. Because of this, when new cats meet, there’s often cat hissing (or screaming), fur-flying, spitting, tail-fluffing and brawling. While these fights may only last a few seconds to minutes, it’s enough time to transmit several diseases, including feline leukemia (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), infectious peritonitis (FIP), or infections.

For anyone who has ever owned a cat that likes to spend a lot of time outside — particularly one that likes to brawl (like an unneutered male) — get ready to spend a few hundred dollars each time one of those infections progresses to an abscess.

What exactly is an abscess? Well, as gross as it sounds, it’s basically a ball or pocket of pus. As veterinarians, these are very fun to treat — provided you keep your eyes and mouth closed. (I’ve seen these pus pockets burst during surgery into newbie veterinary student’s or veterinarian’s mouths! Gross!)

Treatment for abscesses include sedation or general anesthesia, clipping and cleaning the site, surgically exploring it (a fancy way of popping the pocket and flushing it out really well), placing a drain (to allow the pus to constantly drain out onto your carpet rather than staying trapped in your cat’s body), IV or oral antibiotics, pain medications, an E-collar (funnel hat party time!), and maybe even fluids to help hydrate your cat.

What this translates to you? The following costly procedures:

  • An exam fee ($40-150)
  • Cost for sedation, or even general anesthesia — which is more expensive as it means your cat is completely knocked out and sleeping ($40-350)
  • Minor surgery costs — including drain placement ($100-350)
  • Oral antibiotics — which means pilling your cat twice a day for two weeks — or a long-acting injection of an antibiotic ($40-200)
  • Fluids if your cat is dehydrated ($20-200)
  • Pain medications ($20-50)
  • An E-collar to keep your cat from eating the drain or licking at the wound and further infecting it ($20)

(These prices are ball-park, btw!)

Depending on where you live in North America, all this could range in cost from $280 to $1,000+, depending on the severity of the abscess. So, how do you maintain some cost savings? First, keep your cat indoors. Alternatively, if you’re going to let your cat outdoors, don’t do so for long periods of time (e.g., overnight), and ideally, do so in a supervised manner (on a leash, while you’re outside in the yard also, etc.). Secondly, don’t let other cats on your property. While that’s hard to do, a stray cat is less likely to come onto your property if you, your leashed cat, and your dog are all out there supervised together at the same time. Thirdly, catch the infection sooner than later. If you notice a bite wound, it’s better to get it treated right away versus waiting until it causes a severe bacterial infection in your cat’s body. Rarely, this can be fatal, particularly if the bacteria enters the bloodstream (resulting in sepsis).

How much did your cat’s abscess cost you?

Dr. Justine Lee

Image: Archie Playful by Pat Cullen / via Flickr

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