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Abscess in Dogs

An abscess in dogs is a lump that contains pus which may rupture and drain. Typically, abscesses form in the mouth of a dog in the form of a tooth abscess, or at the anus in the form of an anal gland abscess. Read on to find out more about the symptoms, causes, and treatment of canine abscesses.

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It is not uncommon for dogs to develop an abscess or two in their lifetime.

Common examples of small skin abscesses include pimples, boils, and pustules.

Abscesses are mostly caused by bacteria and sometimes parasites or even foreign materials that have got under the skin, triggering a reaction of the body's immune system by increasing blood flow to the affected area. The blood vessels dilate and inflammatory cells (mostly white blood cells) flow to the area in an attempt to get rid of the bacteria, parasites, or foreign material. The pus in an abscess is actually an accumulation of dead bacteria and dead inflammatory cells.

The formation of an abscess is the body's way of "walling off" the infection, keeping the infection localized so that the rest of the body is not affected.

There are two possibilities that can happen. One possibility is that the body is strong enough to eliminate the infection-causing bacteria, in which case the abscess will disappear after the pus in the wound has been absorbed by the body.

Another possibility is that the body is not strong enough to eliminate the bacteria, in which case the abscess will grow bigger with pus, causing it to rupture and the pus will usually drain out.

Common Types of Abscess in Dogs

Common positions for abscesses in dogs are the anal glands, and the oral cavity in the form of tooth abscesses.

Other parts of the body may also be affected, such as the prostate, mammary glands and eyes (orbital abscess).

Rarely, abscesses can occur in the brain, liver or the lungs.

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Symptoms of Abscess in Dogs

The hallmark symptoms of an abscess are pain and swelling or mass in the area which seems to appear quite rapidly.

In addition, a dog with an abscess may show the following signs:
  • Redness and increased temperature of the skin overlying the abscess.
  • The mass may feel either fluid-like or very hard.
  • A yellowish (sometimes blood-tinged) foul smelling discharge (pus) may be draining from the abscess.
  • The dog may have a fever and become lethargic.

Treatment of an Abscess in Dogs

Treatment depends on whether the abscess has ruptured.

If an abscess has not ruptured, the hair around the abscess is clipped and the skin over and around the lump is cleaned and the abscess is lanced. Pus will drain from the lump. Sometimes, a surgical drain may have to be inserted to ensure successful drainage.

After draining most of the pus, a disinfectant solution is used to further flush the abscess and remove additional pus. Often the wound is left open to drain during the healing process.

The underlying problem causing the abscess will also have to be addressed. For example, if the abscess is caused by a dental problem, then dental treatment will be required.

Antibiotic treatment will be given to hasten healing and eliminate infection. Commonly used antibiotics include amoxicillin/clavulanic acid, and trimethoprim/sulphadiazine, among others.

Although an abscess in dogs may look serious to the dog parent, most abscesses do not pose big problems and, with treatment, usually the outcome is good with the majority of dogs recovering within a week to ten days. However, abscesses that occur in the brain, liver or lungs and abscesses that rupture internally are more serious and may cause complications.

You can try to prevent abscesses from recurring by taking some measures, such as:
  • Preventing your dog from chewing materials that are likely to cause abscesses in the oral cavity.
  • Keeping your dog away from other aggressive animals to minimize fights.
  • Practicing good dental hygiene and having regular dental check-ups.
  • Expressing your dog's anal glands regularly to prevent impaction.


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