My uncle used to be in the law enforcement profession. He told me stories of prisoners being stabbed with a “shiv” and not even being aware of it until they weakened due to internal bleeding. Something like an ice pick makes a very tiny hole, and when you stab someone in the back, it’s not a very sensitive area. The weapon goes deep, however, and penetrates a big blood vessel, with fatal consequences.
Cat bite wounds are a little like that. Not that they are fatal, but the initial wound often doesn’t amount to much. You don’t have as much crushing as you do with dog-bite wounds, and usually not much tearing. You just have these tiny punctures, only a couple of millimeters wide. They don’t bleed much, and the cat licks that off, and the hair covers them up. I've posted on this before, but these recent cases bring it to mind again.
They are a lot deeper than they are wide, much like the ice pick, and cat fangs are a lot dirtier than the ice pick. A cat’s mouth is full of nasty bacteria, and that tooth takes them deep into the tissue of the victim. Often, the cat’s amazing healing power gets them under control, and the wound heals without the cat’s owner even knowing it happened.
Sometimes the cat’s defenses are not adequate to control the bacteria. At first, there isn’t really anything to see, but the cat seems a little tender when touched in the area. Over the next two or three days, the bacteria multiply and damage the surrounding tissue. The body fights back, but if it doesn’t win pretty quickly, battlefield casualties mount. Dead germs, dead white blood cells, and tissue fluids combine to make a real mess.
Sometimes this spreads through the surrounding tissue like water in a sponge. This is called cellulitis. Sometimes it accumulates in a “pocket” and that pocket full of pus is called an abscess.
When this is getting started, the area is really sore. The bigger the pocket gets, the more pressure you have, and the more destruction ofctissue, and the more painful it becomes. If you pet the cat in this area as this pressure is building, he won’t like it. You will be able to tell it hurts – he will let you know in no uncertain terms. This can happen even if you cannot see any evidence of a wound.
This cat was presented because “it hurts when I pet him”. These folks didn’t know he’d been in a fight, but it’s very common for them to remember that “Yeah, he was in a fight about 3 days ago, but he seemed okay.”
I felt a little swelling on each side of his back, but could not feel the little pencil-point scabs that I felt sure must be there. A bite-wound was for sure the top of my list, but there was no evidence. Then I shaved the area to probe for an abscess and lance it if it was there.
“Lancing” means cutting a big enough hole in the abscess that the hole will stay open and the pus can drain. After we make the incision and flush out the yuck, we don’t want it to close right up. Our antibiotic treatments will only get into the wall of the pocket, not the middle. Thus, we don’t want the middle to fill up again. Cats treated this way usually heal rapidly with few complications.
That may look pretty tough, but the alternative is to just let the abscess keep getting bigger and bigger until finally it destroys the skin on top and bursts open. That’s what happened to this guy. Of course, with him being a long-haired cat, they didn't realize anything was wrong until the abscess burst. Then they saw blood in that white hair, and they thought he must have gotten cut on something. Of course, they hadn’t tried to look underneath the hair. At least, they didn’t try very hard, because the cat resented it mightily.
As awful as this looks, it healed up in about two weeks with frequent bandage changes and antibiotic therapy. If it had been lanced early in the process, the overlying skin wouldn’t have died (to say nothing of the damage to the underlying tissue).
The bottom line is: when you find a swollen place or a sensitive place on your pet, it’s better to get to the veterinarian sooner than later. Aside from how the cats felt, the black cat’s bill was one tenth of the white cat’s bill. So it’s better for both of you.