What Is An Abscess on a Dog?
A dog abscess is a cavity that forms somewhere in the body. In most cases, trauma to the skin such as a dog bite or other puncture wound introduces bacteria under the skin. The body’s immune system then sends extra white blood cells to the area in an attempt to rid the body of the bacteria. Pus is formed when the white blood cells die and accumulate in the affected area.
The immune system also walls off the abscess by forming a fibrous capsule around it. This keeps the pus confined to one area. Over time, the wall of the capsule grows thin and ruptures. Then the pus drains out.
Sometimes an abscess is able to heal without any medical treatment. In these instances, the white blood cells are able to kill the bacteria. The accumulated pus is then absorbed by the body.
In most cases, however, veterinary care is needed.
Types of Abscesses in Dogs
Abscesses can form in many parts of your dog's body including:
- Anal Sac Abscess: Caused by impacted anal sacs (also referred to as being plugged.) If bacteria takes hold (it can travel up the anal duct), enabling an abscess causing infection to take hold and abscesses to form.
- Bite Wound Abscess: This type of abscess is caused by an animal bite or if a foreign object enters the body such as a wood splinter. One type of abscess forms behind the eye (called a retrobulbar abscess). Another kind is called submandibular which is an abscess in the lower jaw.The onset of this condition is fast.
- Brain Abscess: A brain abscess is a condition where puss forms around the brain. It is similar to a brain tumor with symptoms such as fever.Diagnosis is made via tests such as doing a CatScan or MRI.Treatment involves high doses of antibiotics. It can be cause by an inner ear infection, chronic sinus infection or infection that takes hold deep into the mouth.
- Ear Abscess: If you dog was in a fight and was scratched on the ear an abscess can form. If the swelling was not caused by the accumulation of puss then it could be due to a hematoma (the buildup of blood). Symptoms include a painful reaction to the touch, head shaking and scratching.
- Head and Neck Abscess
- Liver Abscess: Caused by a blood born infection.
- Lungs: Caused by an inhaled foreign object or chronic pneumonia.
- Mammary Glands
- Prostate: Forms when an intact male develops an infection.
- Sinus: When an infection takes hold and is not treated.
- Tooth Abscess: A dog tooth abscess occurs at the tooth root. It is usually caused by an injured, fractured, or broken tooth (most common cause), or if periodontal disease causes tooth decay. The abscess forms when bacteria can enter the area. Symptoms are reluctance to chew on the side of the mouth where the abscess is located. If left untreated the bacteria can cause the tooth to die. As the tooth decays, bacteria can find its way into the jay through the bottom of the tooth. If bacteria continues to advance you will see deterioration of the gums and possible travel through The first step in treatment is to use antibiotics to kill any spreading infection. Abscesses will need to be drained. Your veterinarian may recommend a root canal to repear any damage. If only the abscess is treated without focus on any dental damage the abscess could return through new bacteria that enters through the teeth and gums.
There are several types of bacteria that can cause an abscess in dogs:
- Escherichia coli
- Pasteurella multocida
Canine Abscess Symptoms
Symptoms of dog abscesses include:
- swelling at the wound site
- drainage from
- limping if on the foot
- unusual head tilt
- painful reactions to touch
If the abscess has not ruptured there will be no drainage, just a lump. Hair may fall out around the injured area. Abscesses are usually quite painful, as well. Your dog may try to lick or bite at the injured area. (Don’t let him do this, as it will probably make things worse). If the abscess does not drain and if infection is still present it could result in a fever.
Source: Washington State University, Dr. Barbara Stein
Your veterinarian can generally diagnose an abscess just by looking at the wound. If the abscess has not ruptured, the vet may insert a needle into the lump and withdraw some fluid using aspiration to ascertain that there is indeed pus in the lump. If the abscess has ruptured, it is easy to see that there is an abscess there. A biopsy can also confirm the presence of any abnormal tissue.
To diagnose an abscess in other areas of the body blood or urine tests may be required.
Imaging tests such as X-Rays, ultrasound echocardiography, CT scans or a MRI may be needed for issues such as a brain abscess, heart abscess or to find a foreign object in a mass.
When diagnosing an abscess, a veterinarian will need to rule out other conditions such as:
- cysts (grow slower, sometimes painful)
- Fibrous scar tissue (not painful, scar tissue)
- Granuloma (not as painful)
- Seroma or Hematoma (grows quiklcy, but once at full size it becomes unattached to surrounding tissue)
- Neoplasia (painful)
Canine Abscess Treatment
Abscess treatment depends on the location. For abscesses caused by bites, the dog can be treated on an out patient basis. If sepsis has set in, then the dog may have to be admitted to the veterinary hospital for treatment and surgery in order to remove infected areas and to maintain wound drainage.
If the abscess has not yet ruptured, it will have to be lanced so that pus can drain from the wound. This may require general anesthesia or at least heavy sedation for your dog. You can sometimes help the natural drainage process for skin abscess by applying a warm washcloth to the area for 10 minutes. Heat helps to liquify the puss.
Once the abscess has ruptured and is draining, it can be flushed with a disinfectant solution such as povidone iodine or chlorhexidine to clean the area and remove any remaining pus.
Antibiotics will be prescribed to help fight infection. Ask your veterinarian about any activity restrictions after treatment.
If surgery is required the veterinarian will use general anesthesia.
You can apply warm compresses several times a day to help increase blood flow to the area. This will draw white blood cells to the area, which will help fight infection and promote healing.
Don’t let your dog lick or chew at the wounded area. If he is persistent about doing so, you may need to use an Elizabethan collar (those conical collars that make your pet look like a satellite dish) to prevent him from reaching the injured area. The skin area should heal in about a week.
Dog Ruptured Anal Gland Abscess Treatment
There are three stages of anal sac disease. The third stage results in the rupturing of the anal glad where it ruptures through the skin resulting in an oozing red hole. The location of the hole is next to the dog's anus. Treatment may require surgery if the abscess has not ruptured. Surgery will be used to clean the area and drain any liquid. After surgery a topical ointment is applied to the skin to avoid any infection.
Future problems are prevent by expressing the anal sacs every couple of weeks. Dietary change to a high fiber diet might also help.
The prognosis depends on the location of the abscess and the amount of tissue that has been disturbed. The question of if an abscess can kill a dog depends on the location and severity of the condition.
Skin abscesses can be avoided by eliminating risks such as fighting with other pets.
Anal sac abscesses can be prevented by avoiding impaction. If the problem persists, consider removing the one or both sacs with an anal sacculectomy.
For prostate abscesses, castration may help.
What Causes an Abscess in Dogs?
An abscess is caused by bacteria that penetrates the body. It can occur in the mouth, after a wound, or by a foreign object that enters the body to name a few. There are several types of bacteria, with some causing puss and others that grow when there is no oxygen present.
What are Risk Factors for Abscess Formation?
Abscesses can form whenever bacteria enters the body. Common areas are around the teeth (tooth abscess), or after a bite wound.
How are Abscesses Treated?
Dog abscesses are treated with antibiotics to eliminate any bacterial infection. If under the skin the abscess will be lanced and drained.
Does the Condition Recur After Treatment?
Some types of abscesses such as anal sac problems can reoccur depending on the dog.
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Brochure on the three stages of dog anal sac infections including dog ruptured anal gland abscess treatment.