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Fighting Felines - What Can Happen?

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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A tabby or a tiger? Although your pussycat may appear to be friendly and docile, a fighting feline may be lurking just beneath the surface. Cat fighting and the resultant injuries are a common reason that pets are examined and treated by veterinarians.

Although cats may also attack dogs, they most commonly attack other cats. Fighting is most likely to occur when two adult cats meet for the first time; but they will also fight over territory, dominance issues, and owner attention. Because your cat's teeth are short and sharp, injuries are in the form of puncture wounds without the extensive underlying tissue damage that occurs in dogfights. By nature, the mouth houses a plethora of bacteria, so bite wounds are usually contaminated. In fact, cat bites are more likely to become infected than dog bites. And, since cat teeth are quite small, the small puncture wounds are often overlooked. Without treatment, these tiny wounds can develop into large, painful abscesses.

Along with puncture wounds and abscesses, catfights can also result in the transmission of fatal feline viruses. Feline immunodeficiency virus, feline leukemia and feline infectious peritonitis are transmitted from cat to cat. Rabies can also be transmitted from an infected cat to another animal.

What to Watch For

Although some wounds may be visible, other wounds may be overlooked. Pay attention to your cat. If you notice any of the following symptoms, call your veterinarian.

  • Lethargy
  • Bleeding
  • Puncture wounds
  • Swellings or lumps on the skin
  • Limping

    Diagnosis

    Catfight injuries are diagnosed based on physical examination findings. Typically, puncture wounds or small lacerations will be present, and in some situations, muscle trauma or soreness. Your veterinarian may recommend radiographs (x-rays) in cases of extreme pain, especially in the legs. Fractures are uncommon in catfights since a cat's mouth does not have the strength to fracture a bone. However, some fights occur in trees or on roofs, and your kitty may also have sustained injures from a fall.

    The goal of treatment for catfight injuries is to prevent further contamination by cleaning the wound, removing dead tissue, and treating for infection. Wounds have the best chance of healing without complication if treatment is administered within 12 hours of the injury.

    Care of the Wound

    Catfight injuries are usually painful and your veterinarian will most likely give your pet medication for pain. In fact, your kitty may be in such extreme pain that he will have to be sedated for treatment.

    First your veterinarian will shave the wound and thoroughly clean it with povidone iodine or chlorhexidine. At this point he or she will remove any dead tissue. If there is significant damage under the skin and fluid accumulation is expected, your veterinarian may insert a drain, although this is uncommon in catfight-related wounds. At this point some wounds may require sutures, but most are left open to drain and heal on their own.

    Antibiotic Treatment

    Since cat bites are more prone to infection than any other bite wound, your veterinarian will probably prescribe an antibiotic for your pet. To determine the type of infective bacteria and the best antibiotic, your cat may have a bacterial culture and sensitivity test. Usually, though, 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 clavulinic acid, cephalexin, cefadroxil or enrofloxacin.

    Home Care

    Initially, cleaning the bite wounds with hydrogen peroxide, povidone iodine or chlorhexidine will help reduce infection. However, use extreme care because bite wounds are painful and your pet may bite you out of fear or pain. Do not attempt treatment if there is any possibility you may be bitten.

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

    While your pet is healing, keep him/her indoors and clean. During the warm seasons, flies are attracted to skin wounds and maggots sometimes develop if the wounds are not properly cared for.

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