Cats are not at ease where forced to live in close proximity to many of their own species. Suburban living places great strain on the natural territorial instincts of both males and females. Cat fights result in bites and scratches which often require veterinary attention.
Owners are often surprised at the speed of onset and the severity of infection following what appears to be a simple bite or scratch. The normal bacterial flora within the cat’s mouth includes two species of Streptococci and Pasteurella, that are responsible for the majority of infections following fights.
The canine teeth of the cat are very long and sharp. The skin of the cat is quite pliable and does not tear easily, so that the bite of a cat tends to produce a neat puncture rather than the jagged tear that is more usual with the bite of a dog.
The pathogenic bacteria are therefore injected deeply into the fatty subcutaneous tissues, where they find ideal conditions to proliferate and are protected from the cleansing effect of licking. The symptoms that the cat displays as a result of these infections varies greatly with the situation of the bite.
Where the skin is loose, such as on the neck and shoulder, the animal does not show much discomfort until there is a large accumulation of pus. Bites over the base of the tail and close to the spinal column are intensely painful and the cat may react violently to even the most gentle investigation of the bitten area.
Wounds on the lower limbs do not accumulate large amounts of pus but produce a generalized inflammation of the surrounding cells (cellulitis). The leg and foot quickly swells and the animal is so quickly and acutely lame that the owner believes that the limb may be broken. Wounds around the head and cheek seldom produce a very obvious swelling because the skin is very thick and less elastic in these areas.
The infection may exist for some time and the animal be quite sick before the owner is alerted.
Cats frequently sustain wounds in the same part of the body time after time. This probably relates to their method of fighting. Cats that stand their ground get wounds to the eye or on the side of their face.
Occasionally the tongue may be lacerated by a sharp claw delivered as they open their mouth to hiss. Other cats roll on their back as they fight and their paws and under-surface of the abdomen may be bitten. Wounds to the base of the tail or back are probably sustained in retreat.
Bites and scratches should be treated as quickly as possible to prevent serious infection. Bites are often hard to find among thick fur and are best located by gently feeling the skin with the finger tips against the direction of the hair.
Small encrustations matting the hair may be the only evidence of a wound. The hair should be cut away and the area bathed to remove any hair blocking drainage of the wound. Strong disinfectants should be avoided, as the cat will lick the wound. Instead, salt and water or hydrogen peroxide are safe and effective.
If the surrounding tissue is already swollen and painful, an antibiotic injection is necessary to control infection and prevent abscess formation or cellulitis. Fortunately both the common infective organisms are sensitive to penicillin. A single long-acting injection is usually sufficient to treat all but the most deep-seated or neglected wound.
Where abscesses have formed they must be treated by a veterinarian. If the abscess has already ruptured it still requires antibiotic treatment. Without it, the infection will build up again and break out in a place adjacent to the original opening.
The presence of undesexed males and females in the neighborhood will increase the likelihood of fighting. Male cats become more aggressive as they try to defend their territory and a female cat on heat will attract many suitors. It is every cat owner’s social responsibility to have both male and female kittens desexed at around 5 to 6 six months of age.