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Common Conditions - Articles of Interest - Identifying if your cat has been in a cat fight

Identifying if your cat has been in a cat fight

Is your cat the bully or the victim in your neighbourhood?

Inside every cuddly kitty there may be a ferocious, territorial lion and while we know that cats live longer and healthier lives if they are kept indoors, many people still feel their cats need to roam.

Some cats (even female cats) are more aggressive than others but unfortunately, it is the un-desexed male cats that tend to be the neighbourhood bully; they try to continually expand their territory by encroaching on other cat’s territories and this often results in a cat fight.

Unless your cat is showing visible signs that he/she has been in a fight e.g. limping or has a torn ear, it is very common for pet owners to not notice that their pet has been injured.

When cats fight they inflict deep wounds by biting with their canine teeth. These wounds are not obvious as they are punctures and can be hidden by hair. They will normally cause severe abscesses sometimes as soon as 24 hours after the fight or longer depending on the type of germ in the wound.


When a cat bites, it leaves small punctures in the skin which rapidly seal over trapping bacteria from the cats mouth under the skin of the victim. They can be initially painful, but often, no signs of the bite can be seen. Pain and swelling occur when bacteria under the skin multiply and the tissue surrounding the bite wound becomes infected.

After a few days, an abscess (a pocket of puss) may develop. With severe abscesses, the skin is lifted off the underlying tissues, causing loss of blood supply and necrosis (death) of areas of skin. These areas of skin come off, leaving large open wounds. Sometimes an abscess will rupture, but then reform if there is not good drainage.

Occasionally, the bite penetrates a joint or bony area, causing septic arthritis (infected joint) or osteomyelitis (bone infection).

Pain is the most obvious sign that a cat has an abscess developing. Often cats will not allow their owners to touch them at the bite site. The area may be swollen. The cat may become listless, have a fever and lose appetite.


If a bite wound is treated early, before it develops into an abscess, antibiotics are effective. Once an abscess forms, antibiotics will not be able to penetrate the pus, and surgical draining of the abscess under general anaesthesia will be required. Often a large hole will be left open to allow drainage, or a drain may be place and left for 4-5 days. It may be necessary to clean the area for a few days after the surgery – salty water should be used for this, not disinfectants. Antibiotics will also be necessary. Generally abscesses will heal quickly after treatment, although where large areas of skin have been lost, it may take longer.


Bite wounds are the main route of transmission of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus which causes Cat AIDS. If your cat is known to have had a fight, a blood test for FIV is recommended 3-6 months later. FIV can be prevented by vaccination.


The solution to preventing cat fights is by desexing your cat and keeping them indoors, especially at night.

If you know that your cat has been in a fight, it is best to contact your local vet as soon as possible to commence early treatment before an abscess forms. Consider vaccinating your against FIV – chat with your vet for more information.


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