Wound Care For Cats: How to Care For Your Cat During Recovery

Published Jun. 25, 2024
A pet parent holds their recovering cat.

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In This Article

What Is a Cat Wound?

A cat’s skin is made up of several layers:

  • Epidermis (top layer), or contact layer

  • Dermis (bottom layer)

  • Subcutis (layer beneath the skin), composed mostly of fat

When a cat’s skin is hurt, any or all layers can become affected and a wound can occur.

Some wounds can heal with little to no medical attention, while others require immediate care and treatment. No two wounds are the same, and each wound requires an individualized treatment plan. 

What Is a Cat Wound?

Wounds can include any type of trauma or damage to the skin, fatty layer, and underlying muscles, nerves, bones, and organs.

Wounds can be superficial, such as cuts and scratches, or deep, such as burns or bite wounds.

Wounds can be left to heal on their own or closed surgically.

Those wounds left to heal without surgery often require a bandage, which may involve frequent changing.

Cat wounds can be organized as follows:

  1. Lacerations—A laceration is a cut or tear in the skin. Small lacerations can usually heal without much intervention; however, deep lacerations that involve nerves, tendons, ligaments, or blood vessels often require veterinary surgical repair.

  2. Puncture wounds—Puncture wounds include bite wounds from other cats and animals, as well as wounds from foreign objects such as sticks, sharp parts of plants,  or even glass. These wounds usually occur on the limbs, face, and neck but could involve any body part.

    • Puncture wounds often become infected and develop into abscesses. Puncture wounds are typically treated through cleaning, debriding (removal) of infected tissue, and placement of a surgical drain to allow discharge to drain from the wound.   

  3. Rashes and hot spots—These are superficial wounds that often develop secondary to allergies. Affected skin typically appears moist, itchy, and inflamed, and often becomes infected due to the cat licking, chewing, or scratching.

    • Rashes and hot spots usually develop around the rump, face, neck, and abdomen. The fur around a hot spot often requires clipping because hair and debris can become matted in the wound, which contributes to infection. 

  4. UlcersUlcers often appear as open sores or wounds that can be superficial or deep. Although they can occur anywhere on the body, they are often found on the feet, nose, or lips.

    • If ulcers are caught early enough, they can usually be treated with cleaning, topical ointments, and bandaging.

  5. Burns—Burns can be minor or life-threatening depending on how many skin layers are affected and the extent of damage that occurs.

    • They often are painful and red and can blister, swell, and produce drainage. Deep burns can lead to loss of feeling and severe dehydration.

  6. Degloving injuries—A degloving injury involves a portion of skin that is sheared off but still attached at the base. This term is often used to describe skin loss on a cat’s limb or tail.

    • Degloving injuries often occur when cats are hit by a car or dragged by an automobile. These wounds require prompt veterinary attention and often surgery, including skin grafts, and additional therapy to address related trauma.

  7. Gunshot injuries—Gunshot wounds are often treated as emergencies because of the significant damage caused by the bullet. These wounds often become infected as hair, debris, or other material is pulled through the wound along the bullet’s path.

Are Cat Wounds an Emergency?

Not all cat wounds require a trip to the emergency room.

Some wounds can be managed at home, while others require an evaluation and still others are a true medical or surgical emergency.

Chronic and non-healing wounds should also be examined, as they can be the result of something more life-threatening, such as cancer or a multi-drug-resistant infection.

The following characteristics indicate that a wound should be evaluated by a veterinarian immediately:

  • Abnormal odor

  • Pus-like discharge

  • Excessive bleeding

  • Extensive or deep wound

  • Extreme pain

  • Exposed bone, muscle, tendons, ligaments, nerves, or organs

Additionally, any wound that appears dry or discolored or that lacks sensation requires veterinary inspection, because the skin and surrounding tissue could be dead.

Chronic and non-healing wounds should also be examined, as they can be the result of something more life-threatening, such as cancer or a multi-drug-resistant infection.

It's important to understand that wounds require constant monitoring and continued care. If a bandage is applied, it will require frequent changing.

Additionally, wounds can evolve over time and require additional therapy.

Supplies You’ll Need for Cat Wound Care

It’s a good idea to have a first aid kit at home for minor cat emergencies.

To treat a cat wound, the following supplies are recommended:

How Do You Treat a Cat Wound?

Most wounds in a cat should be assessed by a veterinarian; however, treatment for any type of cat wound involves three basic steps:

  • Remove any foreign material, if present

  • Remove diseased or dead tissue

  • Prevent the wound from becoming infected.

The following steps can be useful when treating minor wounds at home:

  1. Remain calm.

  2. If the wound is bleeding, apply pressure with a clean or sterile cloth or bandage. If bleeding persists, seek veterinary care right away.

  3. Because a cat’s fur harbors debris and bacteria, try to remove or shave the fur surrounding the wound as best as possible without getting any fur or debris in the  wound. This can be accomplished by applying sterile lubricant to the wound before clipping the fur.

  4. The wound should be cleaned and flushed to wash away dirt, hair, and debris and reduce bacterial contamination. The wound can be cleansed with sterile saline or tap water. Unless directed by your veterinarian, refrain from putting ointments, creams, or sprays on the wound.

    • Hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, tea tree oil, and similar products should not be used. That’s because they can cause more damage to the tissue and can be painful when applied. Large or deep wounds shouldn’t be cleaned until they are inspected by a veterinarian; however, obvious hair, dirt, or pus can usually be gently wiped away.

  5. Protect the wound from further contamination, which may involve placing a bandage over the wound (as described below) or using an e-collar to prevent the cat from licking, chewing, or scratching at it. 

  6. Inspect the wound daily. Wounds often change with time, and some may worsen.  The presence of granulation tissue, which appears pink and moist and may easily bleed if prodded, is a good sign of normal wound healing. Any tissue that dies will need to be surgically removed. 

Your vet may place a bandage over your cat’s wound to protect the tissue as it heals. Bandages are often composed of four layers:

  1. The first layer, also known as the dressing, is in direct contact with the wound. Materials used include sterile gauze, mesh, or a non-adherent bandage, which allows fluid to pass through while allowing the wound itself to stay moist. The dressing may include an ointment or other topical medication. 

  2. The second layer is typically composed of rolled cotton or cast padding that absorbs the excess fluid.

  3. The third layer provides support to the wound. This layer is often composed of rolled gauze.

  4. The fourth layer provides more support to the healing wound and applies pressure to keep the other layers in place. This is best achieved using a self-adhering bandage such as CoFlex®.

Different types of wounds will require different types of dressings, medications, and bandages.

Bandages that are placed improperly can lead to complications, such as slippage, fluid seepage, extremity swelling, or restricted breathing. So if your cat needs a bandage, it should be placed by your vet.

Bandages need to be kept dry, so keep your cat indoors while they have a bandage. A recovery collar is often recommended to prevent your cat from chewing or trying to remove the bandage.

When in doubt, have your cat examined immediately, as providing inappropriate at-home wound care can slow down or inhibit proper healing.

If a wound requires stitches, they must be placed quickly for the best outcome. Rapid veterinary treatment often saves pet parents money in the long run and allows for a quicker recovery and a more cosmetically pleasing appearance.

When to Call Your Vet

Any suspicious bites or known bites from unvaccinated, stray, or wild animals require immediate veterinary inspection and treatment.

Recent deep wounds that have minimal trauma and contamination should be examined by a vet because these types of wounds can often be closed surgically, which improves healing and minimizes complications.

Although rabies infections are rare, the fatal disease is zoonotic, meaning it can be passed on to humans. In these cases, your cat may require a rabies booster vaccine and/or a period of quarantine.

Your cat should also be examined by a veterinarian immediately if their wound is accompanied by:

If your cat’s wound has a lot of dead space (pocketing), which often occurs with bite wounds or when large masses are surgically removed, a drain may be needed to allow fluid to drain during healing.

Drains are not typically left in place long (typically three days at most), but they need to be covered by a bandage. 

Recent deep wounds that have minimal trauma and contamination should be examined by a vet because these types of wounds can often be closed surgically, which improves healing and minimizes complications.

Wound Care for Cats FAQs

Can cats heal their own open wounds?

Cats’ curious nature can often lead to minor cuts, scrapes, or bruises. Fortunately, for most healthy cats, these wounds require little to no medical attention and can often heal on their own. 

What ointment can I put on a cat wound?

Topical ointments, creams, and sprays are often used to help promote wound healing, reduce pain and inflammation, and prevent infection.

However, not all medications aid wound healing, and some can lead to bacterial resistance.

Some antibiotic-containing ointments are more useful at the beginning of wound healing, while others, like medical-grade honey, can be useful on highly inflamed or swollen wounds.

Be sure to speak with your veterinarian about the best ointment to use for your cat.

How do I know if my cat’s wound is serious?

When in doubt, consult your veterinarian.

Your cat should be evaluated immediately if they have a wound that is large, deep, or has discharge of any kind, or if an organ, bone, nerve, ligament, tendon, or blood vessel is exposed.

Michael Kearley, DVM


Michael Kearley, DVM


Dr. Michael Kearley graduated from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. He graduated with a certificate in...

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