Cat bites are very dirty deeds

You've heard it said that a dog's mouth is cleaner than a human's. Even without microbiological tests I would question that statement simply on the basis of some of the things I've seen dogs lick!

Cats' mouths, on the other hand, are second only to reptiles for producing horrible infections when they bite.

Cat bite abscess is the term veterinarians use to describe the wounds that result from the angry lashing out of a feline enemy.

Cats' teeth have a uniquely effective shape for producing a wound that is as insidious as it is dangerous. The tip of a cat's canine tooth (the long fang tooth) is sharply pointed on the end, but tapers to a wider shape quickly. The sharp tip allows quick penetration and a small entry wound if only the tip enters a victim. Even that tiny tip can deposit oral bacteria under the skin of the enemy where they can incubate and grow.

Soon an abscess is created. An abscess is defined as a pocket of infection localized into one spot where huge colonies of bacteria can grow. The result is a pocket of pus, a high fever, loss of appetite and dysfunction of the affected body part.

If the bitten part is a leg or tail, the swelling can easily double or even quadruple the size of the appendage.

After swelling begins, the infection may kill the skin covering the abscess. The weakened skin may allow the abscess to rupture. Drainage may be the first abscess evidence a pet owner sees. In other cases the hair over the affected skin falls out first, revealing an angry red lesion beneath.

The pus has to come out. If the abscess doesn't rupture on its own it must be lanced. As this procedure may be painful, it is usually performed under local anesthesia, sedation or full general anesthesia. Hair is removed from the lesion its vicinity and a scalpel blade is used to puncture and incise the wound. Surgical solutions are then used to irrigate the cavity, removing as much of the pus and infection as possible.

Injectable antibiotics are usually administered, as veterinarians are eager to get bacteria-killing medications into the body as quickly as possible. Convenia is commonly used in these cases, or oral antibiotics may be dispensed. For more information on Convenia, click over to http://www.mypetsdoctor.com/.

Ointments such as Animax are administered into the interior of the abscess and are effective in helping to kill bacteria as well as to keep the wound open for drainage.

It is crucial to treatment success that the wound remain open. Whether surgically lanced or self-draining, the wound will have a strong tendency to close and again trap and incubate the bacteria that started the abscess in the first place. If the wound is allowed to close, an additional surgery may become necessary.

Sometimes the process of infection killing the overlying skin is so severe that large areas of skin are permanently lost. In this scenario surgery is required after all of the infection is controlled so that the skin defect can be closed. In the worst cases, skin grafts may be needed to close large wounds.

Not every cat bite results in an abscess. Some infections result in cellulitis, an infection that intersperses itself among and between tissues instead of forming a single pocket. I am currently dealing with such an infection in my left index finger thanks to Tux. Tux is a sweet kitty who recently came to our office for an examination after being adopted at the Humane Society of South Mississippi. She had no objections to any part of the visit until time came to return to her carrier. I let my guard down because she had been so good, but she objected violently to re-entering the pet caddy and latched onto my finger.

I tell this story to demonstrate the importance of prompt medical care when a cat bite occurs, regardless of the species bitten.

I have seen people become disabled because of the rapid spread of infection in hands and arms.

I have seen dogs wracked with pain from these infections.

When a cat bite occurs to a pet of yours, follow your pet's doctor's advice exactly and do not hesitate to contact him if the lesion doesn't heal as you think it should.

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(Dr. Jim Randolph is a veterinarian at Animal General Hospital in Long Beach, Miss. Questions for this column are encouraged. Write to South Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association, 20005 Pineville Road, Long Beach, MS 39560, and include a self-addressed stamped envelope.)

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