Abscess in Dogs - Care and Treatment

Summary:

"An Abscess in dogs is created by a collection of white blood cells that are attacking bacteria in a cavity. As the white cells die they become puss. There are several types of bacteria or fungi that can be involved in the abscess. It can rapidly appear as a swelling on the skin.

Abscesses in dogs are usually initiated by a scratch, bite, or wound from a sharp object, or something that penetrates the skin when outdoors. Bacteria that enters the skin (Staphylococcus, Escherichia coli, B-hemolytic Streptococcus, Pseudomonas, Mycoplasma and others) and then the skin seals can also be a cause, trapping the bacteria and any purulent exudates (puss). 

Abscesses can affect several areas of the body:

  • Gastrointestinal pancreas
  • Eye tissues
  • Prostate gland (bacterial prostatitis)
  • Skin (any area such as nick or throat)
  •  Anal sac (anal sacculitis, infection of the anal sac)
  • Sinuses
  • Lungs
  • Mammary glands
  • Dental

Signs and symptoms depend on the area of the body, but usually are seen on the head, followed by the legs, tail base and back. Other symptoms include depression, appetite loss and fever.

The veterinarian will diagnosis the problem by looking at the skin surface. Lab tests are usually not required. Surgery may be required if an anal sac abscess has not ruptured.

While many abscesses naturally dissolve, others need to be lanced and drained. A topical anti-microbial could be of some help although in many cases they are not effective since they do not penetrate the abscess wall."

Abscess on Dogs Neck
An abscess on a dog's neck or throat will need to be cleaned or drained, plus the application of some type of anti-microbial to aid healing and to avoid infection.

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.

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Types of Abscesses in Dogs

Abscesses can form in many parts of your dog's body including:

Canine Abscess Symptoms

Symptoms of dog abscesses include:

  • redness
  • swelling at the wound site
  • drainage from the wound
  • fever
  • irritability
  • limping if on the foot

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).

Dog Anal Sac Abscesses
Dog Anal Sac Abscesses
Source: Washington State University, Dr. Barbara Stein

Dog Abscess Diagnosis

Your veterinarian can generally diagnose a dog 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. 

Differential Diagnosis

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.

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.

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.

Prognosis

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.

Prevention

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. 

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Brochure

Free brochures on abscesses including the definition, signs, treatment and prevention.

Brochure on the three stages of dog anal sac infections including dog ruptured anal gland abscess treatment.

References

Pet Place

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