Abscess Debridement & Drain
Pets sometimes fight with one another. Fights may occur outside the home, with other owned pets, or inside the home if there is a serious conflict between two or more resident pets. Fight wounds (including those from other animals) frequently result in infections that can become very serious if left untreated. Fight wounds are more common in intact male pets.
How serious are fight wound infections?
A pet’s sharp canine teeth can easily puncture the skin, leaving small, but deep, wounds in the skin. These punctures can rapidly seal over, trapping bacterial from the biting pets mouth under the skin of the victim, where they can readily multiply. The infection may go unnoticed for several days until swelling and pain at the puncture site develop. At this point, the pet will often develop a fever. If the skin surrounding the wound is loose, a pocket of pus will develop, forming an abscess. In areas where the skin is not loose, such as the lower leg or the tail, the infection spreads through the tissues and causes cellulitis, an area of swelling and infection that does not form an actual pocket of pus.
In rare cases, a bite will result in septic arthritis (infection of a joint space), osteomyelitis (infection of the bone), or pyothorax (the chest cavity fills with pus).
How will I know that my pet has a fight wound if I can't find any bite marks?
Puncture wounds heal very quickly so there is often nothing to see or feel, especially in the first few days after the bite. It may be possible to feel heat and swelling in the area of the bite. The most common sites of bites are on the head, forelimbs, or at the base of the tail. If the leg was bitten, it is usually painful, and your pet may limp. Some pets may become lethargic and have a fever. Many cats will excessively groom the injured area.
What should I do if I know my pet was bitten?
If you know that your pet has been in a fight, notify your veterinarian immediately. Antibiotics given within 24 hours will often stop the spread of infection and may prevent the development of an abscess. If several days have passed since the fight, an abscess will usually form, requiring more involved medical treatment.
How will my veterinarian treat my pet’s fight wound?
If an abscess is present, your veterinarian will drain and flush the injured site. This may be done by removing the scabs over the original bite wounds or, more commonly, by lancing the skin over the abscess. It may be necessary to sedate or anesthetize your pet for this. If cellulitis is present, drainage is not possible.
Antibiotics, such as ampicillin (Ampi-Tab®), amoxicillin-clavulanate (Clavamox®), cefazolin (Ancef®, Kefzol®), or cefovecin (Convenia®), will be given to treat the bacterial infection. If your veterinarian prescribes antibiotic tablets for you to give to your pet, it is very important that you give all the tablets as directed. Pain medications may also be prescribed.
With large abscesses, your veterinarian may recommend a technique called debridement, where all affected tissues are removed, including any inflamed tissues that have walled off the abscess from the rest of the body. The resulting clean wound will be closed with sutures. In some situations, your veterinarian may also place a surgical drain in the wound to allow any discharges to escape.
How should I care for the wound after my veterinarian has treated it?
If your veterinarian has drained the abscess, the wound may be deliberately left open to allow for drainage. It is advisable to clean the wound twice a day for two to three days to keep it open, using cotton balls, gauze, or a washcloth and warm water. If a skin cleanser or surgical soap is necessary, your veterinarian will prescribe it. Only use products that are recommended by your veterinarian. NEVER use disinfectants containing phenols, as these are toxic to pets. Never use hydrogen peroxide for cleaning a drained abscess, since this will delay healing and can worsen the problem.
If your veterinarian has placed a drain, you will need to clean the drainage holes twice per day for two to five days, or until the drain is removed. Once the tissues have completely healed, which usually takes about two weeks, any remaining sutures will be removed.
What if the wound is not healing properly?
With appropriate treatment, most abscesses should heal within five to seven days. The swelling associated with cellulitis may take longer. If you believe the wound is not healing normally, ask your veterinarian to re-examine it.
If your pet’s wound is left untreated, there is a danger that the abscess will burst and only partially drain before healing begins. This can leave small pockets of pus behind, which will cause recurrence. Similar consequences may follow if courses of antibiotics are not completed, or adequate drainage is not maintained.
If the infected wound does not heal within a few days of treatment, your veterinarian may recommend testing to see if there is an underlying cause.
For Cats - certain viruses, such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV), suppress the immune system and may complicate your cat's recovery from infection. Blood tests can be performed to diagnose these viral infections.
A persistent draining wound may indicate that foreign material (e.g., a broken tooth, claw, or soil) is present in the wound and may require surgical exploration. Alternatively, it may indicate the presence of an unusual infectious agent, in which case biopsies for culture and sensitivity or other tests may be needed.