Vet care for a cat after fight
September 23, 2015 3:02 PM   Subscribe

My cat just got into a fight with a neighbor's cat. I broke up the fight, but my cat was spooked and wouldn't come to me, so I haven't had a chance to look her over. I am guessing she will need to go to the vet to get any bites/scratches attended to. How long after being scratched/bitten can I wait to go into the vet? It is getting later in the day, my regular vet is closing soon, and I may have to wait until morning to see them. Can I wait (providing it is minor injuries), or should I find an emergency vet?
posted by nanook to Pets & Animals (16 answers total)
How beat up is your cat? If the gashes are just nicks then I really don't think a vet visit is warranted. Only if your cat needs stitches or would need some kind of shot.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:13 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

There's variables to consider in a cat fight. Bites can be bad, but they're worse if they're in a place the cat can't clean themselves, so a bite she can reach that isn't too deep may need no attention while a shallow bite where she can't reach might need treatment. Scratches, unless they land on the face/belly, usually are mostly fur and not much skin involved.

They mostly come out of these things relatively unscathed unless there was a serious size/skill differential.

However, the one thing you want to watch for is mobility issues that might mean a broken bone. It took three return trips to the vet after one of mine was in a really nasty fight (that mostly resolved in some shaved patches and ointment application) before they figured out her leg was broken. I suspect the showdown started on a brick wall and she jumped badly.

I think most people wait-and-see at least overnight unless there's a serious see-into-it wound or deep puncture.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:26 PM on September 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

If you see any blood at all, a preventive visit to the vet tomorrow would be a good idea. Cat skin heals fast, but what that can mean is that a puncture wound from another cat's incisor can go unnoticed till it abscesses.
posted by zadcat at 3:36 PM on September 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

When my cat used to go outside and get beaten up by a bad neighborhood tom cat, sometimes she would develop an abscess and need veterinary care, but usually she was okay. It's far from certain that your cat has any significant injury from one particular fight. I hope she doesn't.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 3:45 PM on September 23, 2015

Everything I've read about cats biting humans says to get it treated by an MD pronto. I say go to the emergency vet.
posted by brujita at 4:14 PM on September 23, 2015

I would wait at least a day. My cat had a similar incident recently, and she did need care. However, the vet wouldn't have been able to tell that right away. Some cat bites and scratches can be nearly invisible, so the only way to tell they exist is by seeing abnormal behavior in your cat, swelling, limping, or tenderness. Of course, if you see obvious problems like mobility issues, then by all means take it.
posted by tofu_crouton at 4:21 PM on September 23, 2015

Often cat fights sound way worse than they are. I think you can safely wait until tomorrow unless there is a really major gash (very unlikely). Give your cat a good once-over tonight if you are able to see if there are any significant wounds/sore spots. As others said above, the big concern is a bite that abscesses--but that won't happen for a couple of days. If you find a puncture wound and your cat will let you, try to wash it well with hydrogen peroxide and keep it open so it heals from the inside out.
posted by agatha_magatha at 4:26 PM on September 23, 2015

Do you have any idea whether she might have fallen a significant distance, or landed awkwardly?

Are you able to observe her to see whether she's limping or not moving around much?

Is she willing to come in the house so she won't be attacked again?

These are considerations I'd use in deciding.
posted by amtho at 4:36 PM on September 23, 2015

Do you know the neighbor cat, and whether it is up to date on shots?

If not, be prepared for the possibility that when you take your cat to the vet, if it has any bites, you might end up with a quarantine period. Our cat's tiny puncture on her paw was handled in this way when we didn't even think it was cat bite -- we couldn't prove it wasn't, either, so we got stuck with another rabies shot, and a home quarantine. This is not a reason not to take the cat in, just a head's up that you might need proof.

That said, I would probably wait until the morning unless you can see something really obviously wrong, or have reason to suspect it's not minor stuff.
posted by instead of three wishes at 5:20 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Waiting until morning is fine unless the cat has deep gashes/bleeding, if the eyeball is scratched or affected, or if your cat is just plain obviously in a lot of pain. If you can get the cat to let you near it, I would try to wash any scratches or bites with warm water and some kind of cloth or paper towel, potentially salt water for its anti-microbial effects but not so salty it stings the cat horribly. I have heard mixed reviews on whether it's good/bad to clean with hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, so I just don't (also they sting, so it's harder on the cat). I try to hold the warm damp cloth like a compress if my cat is chilled out enough to let you. Worst case is that one of the wounds will abcess and this will definitely result in a vet visit. In the past, when my cat only has minor scratches I have opted not to go to the vet and just been very vigilant for the next week, continuing to clean and watch the scratches.
posted by dahliachewswell at 6:57 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, and the one other thing to worry about as someone alluded to is figuring out if the other cat has any disease which might be communicable via bites, not sure what vet will recommend as a preventative if you're not sure but would guess it can wait until morning.
posted by dahliachewswell at 6:59 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: She still isn't home. I am really worried about her. She is usually in and out a lot, and I haven't seen her since mid afternoon, and it's now after dark. She never misses dinner. I have been out calling for her all day, and her favorite neighbor is also looking for her.
posted by nanook at 8:30 PM on September 23, 2015

For a bit of anecdata: about a year ago my cat got in a little scuffle that resulted in a pretty nice puncture wound on his face right beside his eye. He has long black hair, so I didn't notice until the side of his face started swelling and he started acting kind of sluggish, which had to have been at least a couple of days after it happened. I couldn't get a vet appointment for another ~2 days after that. The vet seemed very unalarmed by all of this, cleaned/shaved around the wound, gave him an antibiotic shot and determined he didn't need stitches. About a week later the wound healed fine and he was back to his energetic self.

Definitely take her to the vet if you think she has any kind of serious injury, but don't be too stressed if you can't get her there immediately. They're fairly durable animals.
posted by ltisz at 8:46 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: She's home. Thank you jesus. She's very subdued but ate some dinner. I will check her out more thoroughly soon, but no obvious wounds. Thanks everyone. These darn critters.
posted by nanook at 8:58 PM on September 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

My kid in veterinary school says if there's nothing obvious like major gashes, eye shut, etc. then the best rule in these cases is to wait a day or even two or three because if something does get yucky and infected, it will be FAR easier for the vet to spot. Having a vet check over ALL of a spooked kitty for damage means there's strong possibility they will miss something. An infected bite or cut will take a few days to be easily spotted.*

*She wants me to add her standard warning of please keep cats inside.
posted by kinetic at 11:03 AM on September 24, 2015

FWIW, my outdoor cat has gotten into a few fights over the summer as when it's warm he seems to get a hormonal rush that makes him want to expand his territory.
I've gone through the same sort of worries you seem to be experiencing. What I've found is that he needs a safe space at home (e.g., bed in corner of basement) to go to when he comes home and then more attention and physical contact than usual for a day or two, and then he recovers his spirits.
I've got no science on this, but have come to believe that there's some sort of code of honor among domestic outdoor cats--when they fight they may scratch a bit, but never seem to go past a certain point where they cause truly serious injury.
Glad he's safe and living a natural, healthy, outdoor lifestyle.
posted by Jon44 at 6:42 PM on September 24, 2015

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