Now dive deeper…
Here’s something that surprised me. A lot of people look at the photo above and see cats playing. These cats aren’t playing, they’re fighting, and even if they don’t hurt each other, they aren’t having fun.
Cats do develop friendships and often live happily in stable household groups. However, the sad reality is that cats are a territorial species who rarely tolerate the company of outsider cats.
What catches most cat owners unawares is how bad a cat fight can be.
What Happens In Cat Fights
There are two features of cats that make fight injuries different. They are:
- Cats have lots of sharp, pointy things
- Cats carry unusual anaerobic bacteria
Here’s what happens:
- A cat scratches or bites another cat and injects bacteria under the skin
- The puncture wound is deep and closes over almost immediately
- Anaerobic bacteria start to grow in the absence of oxygen
- A bacterial cellulitis starts spreading under the skin
- Pus forms and collects in a swelling called an abscess. Read what to do about this later.
That’s not all. There are two very special infections all cat owners need to know about:
- Feline Immunodeficiency Virus
- Cat Scratch Fever
What Is FIV?
Did you know cats have their own AIDS virus? Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is an important infection of cats in Australia (in fact, we have the second highest reported prevalence in the developed world). Here in Adelaide, we demonstrated an infection rate of 10% in our own patients.
Just like in people, FIV causes opportunistic diseases due to immune suppression. Cats with FIV are more frequently unwell and generally live shorter lives.
Pet cats only get FIV through the bite of another cat. Not every bite causes infection, but if cats keep getting bitten, it’s almost inevitable that they will get FIV. There is a vaccine and that’s why we always ask you if your cat goes outside when choosing which vaccines to give.
Cat Scratch Fever
Bartonella henselae is a bacterium found on some cats that causes a nasty infection in people. The classic signs are a reaction at the site of injury followed by a swelling and abscessation of the lymph nodes, usually in the armpit.
I have never seen anyone get it so it must be reasonably uncommon in Australia. Visit this page to read about all the things you can catch from cats.
What Cat Fight Wounds Look Like
Straight after a bad cat fight, your cat might look freaked out but not have any obvious injuries. However, if you look closely you might see:
- Crusty matted hair from cat saliva
- Small scabs on the skin surface
- Scratches on visible areas like ears and nose
- Hair caught in your cat’s nails
These cats need treatment to avoid their injuries becoming badly infected. Never has the saying been truer: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. After a day or two without treatment:
- Cats become quiet, feverish and stop eating
- Painful areas develop on the body
- An abscess forms and now you really need a vet
I know from bitter experience how much it hurts.
How To Treat Cat Fight Wounds
The most important thing to know about cat fight wounds is that here are two ways to treat them.
- A quick and easy trip to the vet. When you first notice your cat has been injured, most of the time just pain relief and antibiotics will fix them.
- A late and complicated trip to the vet. Once an abscess forms, it needs lancing and flushing, and sometimes a drain inserted. This must be done under deep sedation or anaesthesia. If you just leave an abscess, healing is very slow. Eventually, the skin over its surface can die and create a gigantic hole that requires reconstructive surgery.
Of course, not every cat fight wound is detectable so even good cat owners will get caught out at times by an abscess.
What To Do After Cat Fights
Here’s what we strongly advise you do after your cat has been in a fight
- Update or start FIV vaccination for at-risk cats
- If not previously vaccinated, get an FIV test in 6 weeks
- Keep cats in after dark
- Keep cats inside completely if fights happen during the day
If you’re thinking about this path, read our guide to keeping indoor cats happy.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.