Hissing and spitting, howling and yeowling, scratching and scrambling in the backyard… The sounds you hear, may be the only clues you have that your cat’s been in a fight.
Sometimes there may be a particular cat that prowls the neighbourhood striking terror into “lessor” felines and their owners…And for anyone that’s read the Lynley Dodd children’s books, the character “Scarface Claw” may be the image that springs to mind. But sometimes a cat fight starts simply because two average cats cross paths at unexpected times. Why? Cats have territories (areas that they regard as ‘their space’) and home ranges (areas that they routinely use or visit but don’t necessarily defend). They usually have a routine where they will use a certain area at a particular time of the day and then not venture back there until the same time the following day. This means that several cats’ home ranges may overlap and they all use the same area at different times without much social interaction. What may upset this happy routine is if a new cat enters the area or if there is some disruption to one of the cat’s routines leading to conflict when they come across another in their range.
Less often, cats may get into fights with other animals – dogs, possums, bats, rats etc. The wounds inflicted during these interactions may be just as serious, if not more so.
What are the signs that a cat has been in a fight?
Those typical sounds described above should make you suspicious that your cat has been in a fight. But what if you didn’t hear anything, or you come home late and something just doesn’t seem quite right?
- Wounds – cuts, scrapes or bruises – these may be hidden by hair so aren’t always easy to see.
- Limping or lameness
- Sensitivity to touch – a cat that usually enjoys cuddles may suddenly avoid touch or resent being picked up
- Wet patches on their fur
- Swelling – this may be as a result of bruising or a developing abscess
- Red, sore eye or holding the eye closed – sometimes cat’s will have a scratch to the cornea that may become ulcerated.
- A strange smell – some poor cats get such a fright when they’re in a fight that they may express their anal glands or soil themselves.
- Lethargy or inappetance
Very often cats will develop abscesses at the site of puncture wounds. These develop when a sharp canine tooth cuts through the skin and penetrates deep into the underlying tissue. As the attacker pulls back, the tooth pulls an area of skin loose making a pocket where bacteria are able to multiply rapidly. So although from the outside there’s only a small hole, there is actually a lot of damage underneath. With the bacteria growing and nowhere for the infection and debris to drain to, a pocket of puss begins to build up forming an abscess. Occasionally these abscesses will burst on their own which may result in an open wound that smells and looks horrible, does not heal very well or occasionally reforms if drainage is poor.
So what do you do if your cat has been in a fight?
Depending on your cat’s temperament and the severity of its wounds, sometimes the only thing you can do is wrap them in a towel and get them checked by a vet. However, if your cat will allow you or if it will take a while before it can be seen, here are a couple of pointers:
- Apply direct pressure to any actively bleeding wounds. Cover the wound with a clean cloth or sterile gauze if available, and apply pressure. It may be five to ten minutes before bleeding stops and once it does, tape the gauze/cloth in place so as not to disrupt the clot that has formed.
- Check for wounds on the rest of the body. If there is no bleeding and the wounds appear very minor, you can try cleaning with dilute antiseptic solution or plain water. Do not use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide as these are extremely painful and may actually damage the tissues.
- If a wound is very long, deep or is a puncture wound, you can clean around the outside but do not flush the wound itself – leave that to the vet.
- Get your cat checked by the vet!
Your vet will examine your cat, evaluate the wounds and determine if there are any other areas/organs that need attention.
- Minor wounds will be shaved and cleaned.
- More serious wounds will need careful cleaning, often necessitating sedation or general anaesthetic. Sometimes drains need to be placed to allow infection to drain out of the tissue. Severely damaged skin may need to be removed and the healthy skin sutured closed.
- Broken bones, breathing difficulties or more serious injuries have more complicated treatments that we won’t go into here.
- Ongoing medications like antibiotics, anti-inflammatories or other painkillers may be prescribed.
Can cat fights be prevented?
Desexing reduces cats’ tendencies to roam, so they are less likely to venture into other cats’ territories. Keeping them exclusively indoors or limiting their outdoor access and contact with other cats will reduce their chances of getting into fights. For cats that live in the same household, providing suitable environmental enrichment, food, water and litter trays goes a long way to helping reduce tension, but this topic also needs more in-depth discussion than will be covered in a future post.
Another good reason to consider some of these factors is that cats that get into fights are far more likely to contract Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FiV). This virus is transmitted in the saliva in a bite. The effects can be similar to those seen in HiV in humans. It’s worth considering vaccinating your cat against FiV if they spend any time outdoors.
If you would like any further information or would like to book an appointment to get your kitty checked out, please call 0481 527 678 or email.