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Bite Wounds in Cats

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Bite wounds are often the result when two animals engage in a fight or aggressive play. Animal fights most commonly occur when adults are put together for the first time. Other causes of fighting include dominance, hierarchy, fighting over food, owner attention or territory. Of all trauma-related veterinary visits, 10 to 15 percent are related to bite wounds.

Cat bites can result in significant trauma, like crushing, tearing, puncturing and lacerations of the skin and underlying tissues. They are typically puncture wounds with possible tearing or laceration. This is due to the small, sharp teeth of cats as compared to dogs.

Since the mouth is an environment filled with bacteria, all bite wounds are considered contaminated and the possibility of infection is high. In comparison, cat bites have a much greater chance of becoming infected than do dog bites.

Bite wounds, which may only appear as a small puncture wound in the skin, can actually be quite extensive. Once the tooth penetrates the skin, severe damage can occur to the underlying tissues without major skin damage.

All bite wounds should receive veterinary attention. Some wounds may appear deceptively minor but may have the potential to be life threatening, depending on the area of the body bitten.

What to Watch For

  • Bleeding
  • Swelling
  • Drainage
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Limping
  • Weakness
  • Collapse

    Diagnosis

    Diagnosing a bite wound is usually a simple task, especially if the owner witnesses a fight. Wounds often have the characteristic appearance of a bite wound. The challenge comes in determining the extent of the underlying damage. Bite wounds are most commonly found on the neck, face and legs.

    Bite wounds of the neck can be serious and may need further examination to determine the extent of the underlying damage. Excessive bleeding from tearing of a major blood vessel, nerve damage, airway trauma and trauma to the esophagus can occur.

    Bite wounds of the face can cause severe damage to the eyes, ears or mouth. Scratches and puncture of the eye is possible. Extensive bleeding can occur if the ears or mouth are bitten.

    Sedation or anesthesia may be required to examine the injured pet.

    Treatment

    Treatment for bite wounds depends on the part of the body injured and the severity of the bite. Bite wounds are usually painful and your veterinarian will administer pain medications to relieve the pain. Wounds have the best chance of healing without complication if treated within 12 hours of the injury.

    Sedation or anesthesia may be required to treat some bite wounds. The skin wound may have to be enlarged surgically to allow examination of the underlying tissues.

    The primary goal of treatment is to reduce the risk of infection. Your veterinarian will gently remove dead tissue and clean the wound area thoroughly to remove hair and other debris. Povidone iodine or chlorhexidine are used to disinfect the wound. If extensive damage has occurred and fluid accumulation is expected, a temporary drain may be placed in the wound to assist healing. The edges of the wound are sutured closed.

    Antibiotics are very important in treating infection, although most bite wounds become infected even if the patient is on antibiotics. This is due to the contaminated nature of the injury. The purpose of antibiotics is an attempt to keep the infection under control.

    Bacterial culture and sensitivity may be done to determine the primary bacterial agent involved and help chose the best antibiotic. Frequently, this test is reserved for those bite wounds that do not respond to initial antibiotic treatment.

    Since the vast majority of bite wounds are contaminated with Pasteurella multocida, common antibiotic choices include amoxicillin, amoxicillin with clavulanic acid, cephalexin, cefadroxil or enrofloxacin, Cefovecin Sodium (Convenia®).

    Home Care

    Initially cleaning of the bite wounds with hydrogen peroxide, povidone iodine or chlorhexidine can help reduce infection. Extreme care must be used since bite wounds are painful and the pet may bite the person caring for him/her out of fear or pain. You may have to muzzle your pet.

    Despite initial home care, all bite wounds should be examined and treated by a veterinarian. Extensive damage can occur even if it appears as though there is only a small, minor puncture wound on the skin.

    Preventative Care

    Preventing bite wounds is done by avoiding situations that may result in animal fights. Do not allow your pet to roam. Keep cats indoors. Keep your dog on a leash, especially when visiting parks and walking through the neighborhood.

    Obedient cats are less likely to participate in fights. Proper cat training is recommended.

    Unfortunately, not all pet owners follow these suggestions. You may do everything possible to prevent a fight but a stray cat may come upon you and your leashed pet and a fight may still occur.

    Some fights cannot be prevented.

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