Broken, Oozing Skin in Cats

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Key takeaways

Feline skin can break open and ooze blood, clear fluid, or pus due to an injury, infection, or illness.

  • Bite wounds that form draining abscesses are very common in outdoor cats
  • Skin infections related to allergies and external parasites are also common causes of open, oozing sores; less common causes include cancer, immune-mediated, or genetic disorders
  • Most diseases associated with broken, oozing skin are not emergencies, but there are a few rare exceptions
  • Injuries and abscesses are usually self-evident, but diagnostic testing such as culture, microscopic examination, blood work, and biopsy may be necessary in some cases
  • Specific treatment depends on the underlying cause and common options include medicated shampoos, antibiotics, antifungals, and parasite control, although surgical intervention may be necessary in severe cases
  • The severity and outcome varies widely depending on the underlying cause
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A closer look: Broken, Oozing Skin in Cats


Most of the time broken, oozing skin is the result of an injury and/or infection. Abscesses, which start with swelling and pain and eventually break open and drain pus through an open, gaping hole in the skin, are especially common in cats who get into fights.

Skin lesions may be characterized by

  • Localized, multifocal, or general
  • Size and depth of broken skin
  • Location and distribution of lesions
  • Nature and amount of draining fluid (blood, pus, or serum)
  • Solitary symptom vs. additional symptoms present

Most of the time an open, oozing skin lesion does not indicate an emergency, but there are some very rare exceptions. Toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN), erythema multiforme, and cutaneous drug eruptions are examples. Emergency attention is advised any time severe skin lesions develop suddenly or are accompanied with other serious symptoms like weakness, collapse, or pale gums.

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Possible causes


General categories that may lead to broken, oozing skin lesions in cats include injuries, self-trauma from primary causes such as allergies or parasites, hereditary skin disorders, immune mediated conditions, and skin cancers. Self-trauma can also lead to secondary infections, often causing oozing skin.

Risk factors


Bacterial skin infections most commonly occur when skin is damaged either from an external source, or from the cat licking or scratching itself excessively.

Other than allergic skin disease, immune-mediated skin disorders are uncommon in cats.

Age of onset may suggest an underlying cause. For example, allergic skin diseases usually first show symptoms in cats under the age of three. Cats with genetic skin disorders typically develop symptoms within the first year of life.

Bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections are more likely to be severe enough to create broken, oozing skin lesions in very young, very old, or immunosuppressed cats (e.g. feline leukemia- or FIV-positive cats).

The face, neck, and lower back are commonly affected in cats with flea allergy dermatitis. Food allergy skin lesions are typically very itchy and appear on the face and head.

Foreign objects migrating under the skin usually drain clear or milky fluid through a round hole that has smooth edges.

Thick, malodorous fluid and pus are more common with bite wound abscesses.

Bloody fluid is more likely with injuries and tumors. Tumors that crack and bleed are usually raised, scabby, and have well-defined margins.

Skin lesions associated with immune mediated disorders like pemphigus usually form around the lips, nose, and eyes.

Testing and diagnosis


Injuries and bite wound abscesses are often self-evident.

Typical diagnostics to investigate other opens sores include:

  • Microscopic examination of the skin and oozing fluid
  • Bacterial and fungal cultures
  • Skin scrape
  • Blood work
  • Biopsy

Treatment varies depending on the underlying cause.

Wounds:

  • Bandaging
  • Debridement
  • Flushing
  • Closure (stitches)

Tumors:

  • Surgical removal
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation

Infections:

  • Antibiotics
  • Antifungals

Additional options include:

  • External parasite control
  • Allergy medications
  • Immunotherapy
  • Therapeutic diets
  • Steroids

Similar symptoms


Scales and crusts may be confused for broken skin, but they also may appear along with broken, oozing skin.

Associated symptoms


References


Karen A. Moriello, DVM, DACVD - Writing for Merck Veterinary Manual
Karen A. Moriello, DVM, DACVD - Writing for Merck Veterinary Manual
Karen A. Moriello, DVM, DACVD - Writing for Merck Veterinary Manual
Michael Schaer, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM & ACVECC - Writing for Clinician's Brief
The VIN Dermatology Consultants - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Lluis Ferrer, DVM, PhD, DECVD - Writing for Veterinary Partner

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