Ask a vet about tips for abscesses in cats
I have seen and treated countless abscesses in my career. Most did require at least a minor surgery or heavy sedation to do a thorough flushing of the abscess with antiseptic. I can recall three pets, all Golden Retrievers, where the abscess healed on it’s own. The dogs were all very tolerant and I was able to teach his parents how to really clean it at home.
While I do think that surgery is very often needed for cat abscesses if they have truly become walled off abscesses and not just really infected wounds, there are a couple things you can do to increase the chances that it will heal.
Home supplies: curved tip- syringes (you can buy them direct from your vet or have your vet write a prescription to a pharmacy– a call ahead by you to make sure they have them is a wise time-saver), a strong antiseptic to squirt into the lesion regularly (chlorhexidine is my favorite; a nice-sized bottle of it costs $4 from Walmart or Target, or you can get a giant bottle for $10 to ensure you won’t run out, again this is a prescription your vet has to write for you, which they should have no problem doing), a good ointment to infuse the abscess with regularly, usually around 2x/day (my favorite is silver sulfadiazine, and you can guess where you get it and how much it costs–yes, again the human pharmacy and it’s $4).
The treatment protocol I recommended for my clients and patients included twice daily flushing using the curved tip syringes into the abscess, taking care not to be rough or painful with the tip of the syringe. The temperature may be a little shocking to the cat. I would draw up the chlorhexidine in the syringes and hold them in your hands to warm them for several minutes first. Cats usually don’t appreciate cold water being squirted in or on them. I always recommended to continue this “flushing” step until you were no longer getting abscess debris out. FYI, it is not uncommon to get small strings of blood that had clotted inside the abscess content, but if bleeding is severe, you probably need help from your vet.
After a thorough flushing, I taught my clients how to infuse the abscess with the silver sulfadiazine. Once the wound was full, I instructed them to leave it open. This can be quite messy, as they tend to seep a little ointment and abscess debris throughout the day. You may want to consider confining him away from certain areas if this is a concern. In the evening, both the flushing and the infusing were repeated. Warm water is good, but you can do much better for him.
Of course, strong antibiotics and probably a mild pain med are in store.
Cats are often very difficult to give oral antibiotics and often they also vomit and get an upset stomach. They also can hold grudges and magically “disappear” when it is time to get their medication, especially if you are “torturing” him with the abscess treatment. In my opinion, if the infection is susceptible to it, the best antibiotic in cats with this problem is Convenia (Cefovecin sodium). This is a newer antimicrobial drug that is great because it lasts about 14 days and it is a single injection once. Your vet has to give it to him. I can’t sing it’s praises enough. This is a bit more than the $4 drugs, but is still affordable at around $30. Your vet may still prescribe another antibiotic for broader antimicrobial coverage. If oral pills work, great. If not, your vet can write a prescription to a compounding pharmacy to have an antibiotic made up that you can just rub inside his ears. This is called a transdermal antibiotic. It should also be relatively inexpensive but depends on the pharmacy.
Cat abscesses are painful. Be sure to inquire about pain medication if your vet does not discuss this. With cat abscesses, depending on the amount of pain, I recommend either Butorphanol orally or Buprenorphine transmucosally. Both of these agents have the added affect of relaxing them and preventing them from self-mutilation.
Do be sure to use an ecollar (the lamp shade) to prevent self-mutilation. Some of the greatest side effects I have seen from any post-surgery is self mutilation from lack of use of the e-collar. If you decide to have the surgery done, keep it on at all times. If they can’t eat or drink with it on, assist them and monitor them when you take it off briefly. It is bad when they pull out their drains because not only is that painful, but they have to undergo anesthesia again to repair the damage and replace the drains, which means more money and more time with the e-collar. Another bonus with the e-collar is many cats will be angry about this, and it displaces or seems to displace some of their anger and pain about their injury.
Now, the trouble with cats is most won’t tolerate this type of treatment. I have unfortunately had (all I believe) my cat owners that wanted to try home treatment at first come back after weeks of trying and many new scratches and scars to have the surgery. Tolerant cats may have a shot, and if you have a second person to help you, this will likely also help. If you have a question about your pet’s health, you can ask a vet 24/7.
Dr. Laci Schaible is a veterinarian who practices with her husband, also a veterinarian, in Pennsylvania. In her spare time, she writes for numerous pet publications.