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Fight wounds in cats

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More than 90 percent of infected wounds in cats are a result of being bitten during a cat fight.  Cats are far less commonly bitten by dogs, rats, and other rodents.

Cats are instinctively territorial. They fight with other cats both to defend and to expand their territory. Fight wounds are more common in male cats, especially those that have not been neutered.  Keeping your cat indoors, especially at night when most fights occur, will reduce its risk of being bitten.

In a cat bite, the teeth punctures leave small wounds that can rapidly seal over, trapping bacteria from the cat's mouth under the skin.  The bacteria multiply and the area soon shows signs of infection.  The puncture site often becomes swollen and painful, and the cat may have a fever and become listless.  Infection under loose skin can form a pus pocket, or an abscess.  Infection under tight skin spreads in the tissue to cause swelling and inflammation.

Fight wounds are most common on the head, front legs, and around the base of the tail.  A leg that has been bitten is usually painful and lame.  You may be able to feel swelling and heat at the site of the bite.

Your cat should be examined by your veterinarian as soon as possible after you discover a bite wound.  Antibiotic treatment begun within 24 hours of the bite can sometimes stop the infection from spreading.  Bite wounds treated after an abscess has formed need to be drained and flushed, which often requires anesthesia.  If the wound is large, your vet may need to suture a drainage tube in the wound to allow fluid to continue to drain from the area while it heals.  Follow-up care requires cleaning the wound or drainage tube for several days.

Q&A

Why do cats fight?

Cats are instinctively territorial and fight with other cats both to defend and to expand their territory.  Fight wounds are more common in male cats, especially those that have not been neutered. 

Why do cat bite wounds become infected?

The teeth punctures leave small wounds that rapidly seal over, trapping bacteria from the cat’s mouth under the skin.  The bacteria multiply and produce signs of infection, including swelling, pain, abscesses, and fever. 

Do cat bite wounds need to be treated right away?

Bite wounds should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible (within 24 hours), so that antibiotics can be given to relieve discomfort and keep the infection from spreading. 

How can I prevent my cat from getting into fights?

Get your male cat neutered and keep all cats indoors, especially at night when most fights occur.

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhDand Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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