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How Can I Tell If My Cat has a Bite Wound?

August 3, 2014

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Minnie the Cat has Extensive, Hidden Trauma

“She was perfectly fine last night at 10 p.m. Today she just lays around and won’t even eat her favorite- rotisserie chicken,” said Roxy. The black, short-haired, slightly pudgy domestic kitty purred. Her golden eyes stared up at Doc Truli from the zippered opening of her burgundy polyester cat carrier. Minnie looked normal.

“Does she go outside?” asked Doc Truli.

“Yes, she loves to sleep on the hood of the car in the sunshine and sometimes she sleeps on the back porch in the afternoon. She stayed out all night two nights ago and didn’t come back until the next morning. She seemed fine,” said Roxy.

Doc Truli knew better than to just reach into the carrier of a supposedly friendly cat who may be in pain. With a gentle hand, she felt Minnie’s head and lymph nodes, then her shoulders, then her back and finally, her hips. Minnie growled.

“She hurts in the back-end. Let’s get her out of this carrier carefully and see why she hurts back there,” said Doc Truli.

“Now that you mention it, I have not seen her get up and walk in more than a day,” said Minnie’s mom. You’d think someone would lead with that observation…

Doc felt Minnie’s right hip, haunch and hind leg. The whole thigh felt crinkly with crepitus (pronounced crep-i-tuss). Doc knew immediately that anything causing that much air under the skin was extensive. Usually a bad infection or trauma will cause air under the skin.

“Minnie needs sedation and surgery to identify all her wounds and fix them,” said Doc Truli.

“I can’t believe it. She was perfect yesterday,” said Roxy. “Why does everybody say that?” thought Doc Truli.

How to Tell If Your Cat has a Wound

Gently feel the lay of the fur. Where it clumps and there is a stivky wet spot or a dried clump of fur coupled with flinching or quivering of the skin, there may be a significant defect like a bite wound

A small bump or clump in the fur could indicate a bite wound

Clumping of the Fur

Minnie’s wounds did not look extensive. She had some small clumps of fur on the right side of her right hind leg, by her knee, by the inside of her knee, and by the right side of her anus. The fur was sticking up and not lying flat and smooth like the rest of her fur. Her right knee and ankle were swollen and enlarged when Doc felt the right and the left for comparison.

Any fur that stays out of alignment after you smooth over it may be marking an injury spot

No hair for no good reason= likely injury or infection


The whole right haunch felt crinkly and little blebs of air moved until Doc Truli’s fingers as she felt the leg. The air and the wide distribution of little holes were clues to bigger injuries than Roxy suspected.

Feel for clumped wet fur especially on the rump or neck to find bite holes

Feel for clumped wet fur to find bite holes

Unexplained Wet Fur

The wet spot over the wound in this picture is a give-away for serum or blood or sometimes even pus under the skin. If it stays for hours or days, it will have time to dry and become a clump of fur. The clump may keep infection close to the skin and cause pus and infection to spread under the fur and infect a larger area of skin.

Sudden Illness “For No Reason”

“She was perfect. I can’t believe it’s this bad,” said Roxy. Doc Truli hears this almost every time a cat comes into the hospital with bite wounds. Several days after the initial attack, the uncleaned, bruised wounds begin to accumulate pus. Usually the infection stays under the skin until it exerts enough pressure to find its way through the skin. Sometimes you see nothing, but your cat feels tired and lethargic. Minnie stopped eating and had a high fever. This infection had several days to brew and become worse. If Roxy had known how to feel for injuries like bite wounds, perhaps the pain and illness could have been averted.

How to Feel For Wounds

  • Look for fur sticking out.
  • Look for missing fur.
  • Look for fur not laying smooth with the rest of the fur.
  • Feel for clumps or fur not laying right.
  • If your cat quivers or pulls away from one spot and the fur is not normal, it may be an injury.
  • Look especially by the tail base, the back, and the neck and cheeks (common cat bite areas.)
  • Look and feel for symmetry. Healthy mammals are symmetrical.
  • Feel for heat, pain, and/or swelling.
  • Feel for gas (air) bubbles under the skin – like a crinkly crepitus feeling.

If you find any of these abnormalities in a cat acting abnormal, then maybe you need a veterinary visit.

Other Things Bumps on Your Cat Could Be

  • Scar tissue – not a new bump, obviously
  • hives – smooth, haired, round
  • growths – bump in fur, but also bump in, on, or under skin
  • dermatitis – this is a big one. Infected hair follicles will make the fur stick up in little clumps. As your veterinarian, Doc Truli would pull the fur out of a clump and see what’s underneath. Dermatitis will not have bruising or a hole like a bite wound.
  • many other things, but should be worth a vet check-up

A Bite Wound Causes More Injury Than You Would Guess

A Thorough Examination

Doc Truli sedated Minie and shaved her hips and leg. Herein follows a picture series of what Doc Truli discovered. Minnie had six small holes through the skin on her hip, the inner and outer knee and by the right side of her kitty butt below the anus. Under the skin, there was trapped outside air over the entire hip, rump, and even around her right kneecap!

Once her right knee area was shaved, bruising of the entire knee and halfway up her kitty quadriceps could be seen.

Kitty Cat CSI

Minnie suffered a vicious attack. Her wounds went beyond defensive wounds; she was running away from her attacker(s). The tiny precise holes coupled with the locations inside and outside the knee inflicted while Minnie was running away made Doc Truli think of a fast, accurate attacker. Cats rarely cause that much damage so fast. Dogs rarely make holes that small. Who attacked Minnie?

Raccoon bite wounds on a cat's leg look tiny

Small wounds lead to big trouble

A bruised cat knee feels swollen and hot compared to the contralateral knee.

Bruised Cat Knee

This sub-q air could be felt as moving bubbles under the skin

The dark gray marks are actually air under the skin

You can feel air under the skin as crackly little air bubbles that crinkle and move when you run your hand over them.

Air under the skin is abnormal

At sugery, a pair of surgical scissors slides easily under the skin showing the communication between two bite holes over 20 centimeters apart

Scissors delineate extent of a cat’s bite wound pocket

1/4 inch latex surgical tunes traverse under the skin to drain the whole pocket space created by the force of teeth tearing at the skin

Drains help protect this cat from sepsis

Doc Truli shared her observations with Roxy,”Someone vicious, fast, efficient and with small teeth attacked Minnie.”

“Could it be a raccoon?” asked Roxy.

“Why do you think it might be a raccoon?” asked Doc Truli.

“We have a whole crowd of them that come to the back porch in broad daylight and when I try to shoo them away, they just look at me. They have no fear,” said Roxy.

Most likely, poor Minnie was minding her own business when she was attacked by one or more raccoons. The evidence fits.

Minnie’s Bite Wound Recovery

Minnie slept and took antibiotics and painkillers for two weeks. The first 24 hours, she had ice therapy. Once she started eating well and feeling better, we started some physical therapy to keep her right hind leg limber. She had extensive muscle bruising and torn muscles from the attack and would need two to three months to heal the injuries.

Learn the signs of a bite wound injury in your cat to help minimize pain and infection.

Consider carefully whether or not your cat will continue to go outside to lounge or play. In many places in the United States, cats are not legally allowed outside unless they are under the direct supervision of their humans, just like a dog.

Read more about bite wounds causing surprisingly extensive hidden injuries in this story about a little dog attacked by the neighbor’s Golden Retrievers.


Thank you for reading!

All VirtuaVet content is original, written by Doc Truli, and copyrighted 2014 with all rights reserved. Please see the “terms of use” for for more information.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. August 16, 2015 6:01 am

    I used to have two male cats, one significantly older than the other, and while they were usually best buds, when the younger one got to be about 2, and they both realized he was bigger, their play started turning into scuffles. One day they were scuffling in the hallway, and before I could get to them to break it up, one of them let out a scream. By the time I got there I just saw two cats crouching there staring wide eyed at one another, and I looked both of them over, found nothing, and then figured someone just panicked. Two or three days later, I woke up to find the left side of the younger one’s face swollen to about twice it’s normal size. I figured out, the older cat had bit him, but his cheek was so fury, I missed the bite mark. The infection moved so fast that the wound aspirated own shortly after I discovered it. Luckily the infection cleared up after a round of antibiotics. Since then, any time I suspected a fight had taken place, I put a lot more effort into finding those tiny puncture wounds, and would promptly do my best to disinfect them with some alcohol and neosporin. You would think it wouldn’t do much since the wounds tend to be deep, but I’ve never had one I caught early and disinfected get infected.

  2. Kendra permalink
    August 6, 2014 11:16 pm

    Partly I was surprised to see the skin pocket so large and loose. So is there no attachment between the skin and muscles? I’m thinking specifically of when I now give my cat daily subQ for CRF, how the skin pulls away and creates an area for the fluid. When my vet wanted to double the fluid from 50 to 100 ml daily for my tiny five pound cat, I could not imagine there would be enough room under the skin for that much fluid without discomfort.

    • August 8, 2014 10:18 pm

      The pocket was formed by the fast and forceful bite wounds pulling it away from the fat and muscle underneath. I cannot put any probe under normal healthy skin. The skin over the pocket will have to reattach as part of the healing process.

  3. August 6, 2014 11:19 am

    Hi, I thank you for sharing this. Basically, when pets are bothered moving or they tend to move slower than usual you as owner will notice and be alarmed about it. I strongly suggest if this problems occur, don’t think twice to visit the vets for expert advice.

    • August 6, 2014 2:14 pm

      So…thanks for the comment.
      I checked out your blog.
      I cannot tell who you are or why you host a cat blog.
      Can you share with VirtuaVet readers what/why your blog is!?
      -Doc Truli

  4. Ludie permalink
    August 5, 2014 2:54 pm

    Hi, I’ve seen that some here have found answers to their cats’ issues. I have a cat named Jesse that I found outdoors, she was part of a stray litter, when I found her she had a high fever and a upper respiratory infection. I brought her inside since it was hot, she seemed to do better but later that night I found her circling around in circles and eyes darting back and forth. She was brought to a vet who wanted to put her down. We said no, and she was sent home with antibiotics, I did have to syringe feed her until she got her strength back. She has since recovered and been spayed. Only thing is when she gets scared she runs in a circle and is a bit off balance. What do you think happened? She is an indoor kitty now. Only thing I could figure is due to the high fever she had a little nerve damage, she eats and plays fine, she’s spayed too. The Vet can offer no explanation, only she is disabled. She has come a long way. Blood tests have come back normal as well. She is a great cat and she is happy, plays and eats well. I am just wondering if you had any idea as to what really happened to her.

  5. Kendra permalink
    August 4, 2014 1:45 am

    I appreciate. Your detailed photos and comments. Two things especially puzzled me: why were the scissors put under the skin in that photo? If the owner knew raccoons were regularly in the backyard, why did she leave the cat outside, especially unsupervised? Am I missing info?

    • August 4, 2014 7:38 am

      During surgery, an skinny long instrument like scissors or hemostats are gently placed in the pocket in order to see the extent of it. This intra-op picture helps you see the extent of the pocket in this kitty. By extension, if your cat is ever injured, you may be able to appreciate the possible damage and act quickly to help your cat.

      Some people seem to believe cats must go out to the garden, seemingly no matter the danger. Wait til you hear what another cat’s owner had to say about that in my next story!


  1. Cat Bite Abscess Healing Process | VirtuaVet

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