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How to treat & spot the symptoms of abscesses in dogs

Abscesses can be nasty, especially in pets. Spotting the signs and symptoms is the key to ensuring they don’t cause serious health issues. They can be prevalent in dogs who spend a lot of time outdoors. Dogs like to explore, which can put them in environments where they may be exposed to sharp objects, including seeds, plants, and other miscellaneous items. If ingested, these things can harm your dog’s health. Here you can learn more about abscesses in dogs, including how to spot them and the best ways to treat them. Keep your dog safe from nasty health complaints so they can stay happy and healthy throughout their lifetime.


What is an abscess?

An abscess is a pocket of pus often formed just under the skin but can also occur within the body. There are many types of abscesses a dog can suffer. Abscesses can be small or large, superficial or internal and potentially very dangerous. All abscesses carry a serious health risk if left untreated, so they should be examined by a vet as soon as possible.

What are the symptoms of an abscess?

Surface abscesses will appear under the skin as a painful swelling that is either firm or jelly-like to touch. Other symptoms to look out for are:

  • Inflammation at the site of the lump
  • Heat emitting from the area
  • Licking or chewing the abscess site
  • Hair loss around the site
  • Weeping or bleeding from the site
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Fever

Internal abscesses are much more difficult to detect and treat as your dog may not show any outward signs. A dog with an anal sac abscess may scoot their bottom along the floor.  Symptoms such as coughing and wheezing may indicate the presence of a lung (pulmonary) abscess.

What are the causes of abscesses?

Abscesses form in response to bacteria. Abscesses under the skin result from an injury such as a scratch, bite, or ingrowing hair, which has become infected by the bacteria Pasteurella Multocida or Staphylococcus Intermedius. Canine abscesses can also occur at a tooth root following tooth damage in the ear, sinus, liver (following a blood infection), pancreas, lungs, or brain (following a mouth infection).

What puts a dog at risk of developing an abscess?

Pets more likely to incur injuries are at a greater risk of developing an infection and, therefore, an abscess. Active dogs are more likely to encounter dirty, sharp objects they can chew on, cutting their mouths. Particularly during spring and summer, your pet is at risk of swallowing or inhaling grass seeds and plant matter while out walking. This plant matter can lodge in lung tissue, causing an infection.

Dogs who have not been neutered or spade are more likely to fight with other dogs and suffer bite wounds.

Certain breeds of dogs, such as Labradors and English Bulldogs, which have short, stiff coat hair, have a greater chance of developing abscesses. Hair can be pushed back into the hair follicle and become infected, causing abscesses between the toes.

Diagnosing an abscess

Your vet will take a swab of the infected area to determine which strain of bacteria is present.  A blood test will also be done to establish whether the infection is present in the blood.

Internal abscesses are far more challenging to diagnose and require more advanced diagnosis methods, such as detailed blood tests, urinalysis, x-rays, ultrasound, or surgical biopsies.

How are abscesses treated?

Most surface abscesses can be easily treated by lancing, draining, and cleaning the affected area. This procedure will, however, require either local or general anaesthesia. Due to the infection, your dog will be given a course of antibiotics and possibly pain relief and anti-inflammatory drugs to take home. Your vet will want to see your dog for a couple of follow-up appointments to check that the area is healing properly.

For an internal abscess, more invasive treatment will be required.  If your pet has an abscess in its mouth, the affected tooth will need to be removed, or root canal treatment will be performed to drain and remove the abscess. Surgery is also likely to be required to treat lung, liver, and pancreatic abscesses and abscessed anal sacs.

If the abscess ruptures and the infection spreads into the bloodstream, your dog will quickly develop sepsis. The rupture of an internal abscess can lead to peritonitis. Both infections are severe and can be life threatening. If your pet contracts them, they will require urgent hospitalisation, intravenous antibiotics, fluids, and supportive care.

Can a superficial abscess be treated at home?

Depending on the size and location of the abscess, it can be treated at home by applying heat to the area using a warm compress. It is crucial to remember that if your pet is displaying any of the other symptoms, including fever, loss of appetite, or lethargy, you seek veterinary help immediately. If left to fester, an untreated abscess can spread the infection throughout the rest of the body and potentially be fatal to your dog.

Will an abscess heal on its own?

In some cases, a small superficial abscess may heal on its own without the need for any intervention. However, due to most dogs being active and outdoors most days, there is always the risk of infection, particularly if the wound is open. It is always worth consulting a vet and monitoring your dog’s condition to ensure they remain happy and healthy.

How to prevent abscesses

If you want to prevent your dog from developing an abscess, check them daily for any wounds, and if you notice anything, contact your vet, who can advise how to treat it and whether an appointment is necessary. If the injury is only superficial, you are likely to be advised to use an over-the-counter, pet-formulated anti-bacterial cream to help prevent infection.

If your vet prescribes antibiotics, be sure to complete the course to avoid any recurring infections.

If your dog has bouts of snorting or sneezing, especially during spring and summer walks, check their eyes, mouth, and nose for plant matter. It can become lodged in soft tissue and may have progressed to the lungs. Any concerns, take him to the vet to be checked over.

Keep your pet in the best possible health

Being aware of the symptoms and dangers of abscesses to your canine’s health is the key to helping prevent them and ensuring any abscesses are recognised and treated quickly. There are a number of potential health risks that your dog can be exposed to out in the world. Thankfully, our range of pet testing and treatment products can make taking care of your pet’s health more manageable and can be done in the comfort of your home. All of our pet testing kits are approved by vets and suitable for home usage.