What You Should Know About Cat Bites, Fights and Antibiotics

Alison Birken, DVM
By Alison Birken, DVM on Jun. 25, 2018

Image via Marie Charouzova/Shutterstock

By Dr. Alison Birken, DVM

I evaluate and treat many cats at my animal hospital in Fort Lauderdale. These funny, adorable, independent and very much peculiar little guys have a special place in my heart.

Unfortunately, cat owners do not bring their cats into the veterinary hospital for wellness visits nearly as often as they do for dogs. I typically evaluate a cat for illness or trauma rather than for wellness. It is very common for me to treat cats for trauma sustained from fighting or for cat bite wounds from other cats. Far too often, pet parents do not bring their fur baby to the veterinarian to follow up after a cat was in a fight with another cat.

I cannot stress enough the importance of having your cat evaluated if they have been bitten by another cat. Since this is such a common injury in cats, all cat owners should know why cat bite wounds need to be treated by your veterinarian and the importance of systemic antibiotics for cat bite wound treatment.


Why Are Cat Bite Injuries so Common?

Cat bites and other fight wounds are so common in cats because cats are territorial by nature. Fighting is a behavioral response to defending their territory. Male cats commonly fight more and sustain more cat bite injuries than females.

Why Do Cat Bite Injuries Need to Be Treated With Antibiotics?

Most cat bite traumas result in infection if untreated. Cat bite treatment is necessary to prevent serious illness and disease. Local infections such as an abscess or a closed-off pocket of puss are common complications of cat bite wounds. More serious complications, such as cellulitis and systemic illness resulting in infection and even sepsis, may result if left untreated by antibiotics for cats.

What Causes the Increased Risk of Infection?

Like all oral cavities, the mouth and teeth of a cat harbor bacteria. When a sharp tooth punctures the skin, bacteria are transported to that area. Since puncture wounds heal rapidly—within 24 hours—the bacteria from the oral cavity can get trapped under the skin. The bacteria then multiplies and creates an infection. The infection is closed off because the puncture wound has healed over, so the infection invades the body and develops into an infectious abscess or a closed pocket. 

What Do I Need to Look for to Assess for Injures to My Cat?

Many times, cat bite wounds and trauma can be found by simply looking at your cat. You may see obvious, open puncture wounds on the skin, or you may see localized areas of fur that appear wet or matted. If you notice areas of the fur that are wet or matted, part the fur and check the skin for open wounds or scabs. Check common locations such as the head, rear limbs and base of the tail.

Puncture wounds heal very quickly, and many times you may not see anything, especially a few days after a cat fight. Often, small puncture wounds quickly scab over and develop an infection and swelling under the skin, known as an abscess. The common clinical signs associated with cat bite wounds and abscesses are:

  • Swelling under the skin that can be warm to the touch and is usually painful
  • Limping
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Excessive grooming of the affected area

How Will My Veterinarian Treat a Cat Bite Wound? 

If your cat was in a fight with another cat, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to have them evaluated immediately. Your veterinarian will check the entire body, clean wounds properly with antiseptic, and recommend systemic cat antibiotics.

If wounds are treated with cat antibiotics within 24 hours, a localized infection or abscess infection will most likely be prevented. If cat antibiotics are not given to your cat immediately, an abscess will most likely form, resulting in more involved treatment.

With an abscess, your veterinarian will recommend opening, draining and cleaning the site with an antiseptic flush.

Depending upon the wound and the nature of your cat, sedation may be required to properly treat the wound. Your veterinarian may recommend a culture to assess the exact type of infection and antibiotic that your pet will need. Some wounds may be more extensive, requiring a debridement (removal of the unhealthy tissues) and placement of a drain for a few days.

Most wounds will heal within two weeks with appropriate antibiotic usage and care. It is imperative that you administer the cat antibiotics as prescribed by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will prescribe topical antiseptics to treat the wound at home. I trust and prescribe Zymox topical dog and cat enzymatic skin cream. A follow-up appointment will be scheduled to ensure the wound is healing properly. 

What Are Some Problems That Can Arise If a Wound Goes Untreated? 

With infections that are not treated, a more serious disease can result. The following are some more serious complications caused by an untreated cat bite wound:

  • Lethargy and fever
  • Cellulitis (a bacterial infection of the tissue beneath the skin)
  • In very rare circumstances, septic arthritis, osteomyelitis or an infection of the joint or bone can occur

Unfortunately, cat bite wounds are a very common injury that I treat. It is imperative that your cat be evaluated by a veterinarian and treated with antibiotics immediately. If left untreated, these wounds can result in serious complications and illness.

Preventing Cat Bites

Neutering your cat may help with some of the territorial behavioral that leads to cat fights. In addition, keeping your cat indoors during the evening time when cat fights are more common can help prevent trauma.

I hope this article was helpful and stresses the importance of having your cat evaluated by your veterinarian immediately if they are in a cat fight. As always, your pets’ overall health and well-being are my top priority!

Alison Birken, DVM


Alison Birken, DVM


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