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Ask the Doctor March 2019 Issue

Dear Doctor: Pockets of pus on different parts of the body

Q. Our cat sometimes gets one or two pockets of pus on different parts of his body that ooze a bit, then often go away. Should I be concerned?

Claude Harper

Nashville, Tennessee

Dear Mr. Harper,

A. Yes, you should. Those pockets of pus are actually abscesses resulting from bacterial infections. You’ve been lucky that so far, they’ve drained on their own without complications. More often, they hurt. A cat will start limping or spike a fever, or he’ll go and hide — a common sign that a normally outgoing cat is not feeling well. You may also see swelling with a little opening that’s draining pus.

Most often the infections leading to abscesses come from cat bites. We’ll wager your male is an outdoor cat who doesn’t mind getting into scrapes with other cats. When the tooth of another cat punctures the skin, the hole created quickly closes over and heals, but bacteria from the other cat’s mouth remain under the skin. That’s what leads to the infection, and the body’s attempt to rid itself of the problem by abscessing.

If you suspect your cat has an abscess going forward, you should take him to the veterinarian for treatment. Otherwise, he could remain sick — and even die if the infection spreads to the blood. It’s a small risk, but it’s there.

With your cat under anesthesia, the vet will probably make a tiny incision to help the pus drain better and will also flush out the wound with sterile saline. At Tufts, we help the process along with a suction drain that we leave in for one to three days. Antibiotics are prescribed, too, to kill any remaining bacteria.

You may want to re-think your decision to let your cat out, especially if he has been getting more abscesses than usual. Confining a cat to the house is a quality-of-life issue, for sure, but also a significant safety issue.

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