Goals of Treating Canine Abscesses
The overriding goals of treating abscesses in dogs are to drain the wound, clear up the infection, relieve pain and remove any identifiable foreign objects that may have caused or contributed to the wound and infection in the first place.
Most external abscesses can be treated successfully on an outpatient basis. Only in very severe cases will in-patient hospitalization be necessary, such as in cases of mammary gland abscessation in a lactating bitch. Most veterinarians will lance obvious superficial skin abscesses to establish and maintain adequate drainage, followed by a course of broad spectrum antibiotics. Depending on its size and location, the whole abscess may be removed surgically, using local anesthesia, general anesthesia, or both. In either case, the entire area should be thoroughly cleaned and clipped, to identify the parameters of the abscess. In some cases, the attending veterinarian will place a temporary drain in the abscess to promote healing. This involves suturing a synthetic tube into the wound, to carry pus and other liquid away from the infection site. Other times, the abscess will be lanced, cleaned and left open to the external environment, to heal from the inside out. Hot packs can be applied to encourage drainage and relieve inflammation and pain.
Protective bandaging or collars may be necessary to keep the dog from bothering an abscess as it heals after treatment. Depending on the location of the abscess, the dog’s activity should be restricted until the draining resolves and the surrounding tissues are well on their way to returning to normal. Once the precise bacterial or other microorganisms responsible for the abscess are identified, appropriate antibiotic drug therapy should be started. Anti-inflammatory medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can also be helpful. If the infection has spread into the dog’s bloodstream, the situation is more severe. In that case, the dog has become “septic” and may need to receive intravenous antibiotics, fluids and in-patient supportive care.
Tooth root abscesses often are treated by pulling the affected tooth or performing a root canal. Lung, liver and pancreatic abscesses typically are treated by surgical resection of the infected area. Abscessed anal sacs can be removed in a fairly simple surgical procedure that involves removing the affected anal sac, called an “anal sacculectomy.”
The prognosis for dogs with abscesses depends on the location and size of the lesion, the degree of tissue death at the time of treatment, the severity of the infection and whether any critical organ function has been compromised. Anal sac abscesses, mouth abscesses and superficial skin abscesses are usually quite treatable on an outpatient basis and have an excellent prognosis for a complete cure. Unfortunately, if an abscess in the abdomen or chest cavity ruptures, the pus and infectious organisms will spill out and spread, causing a much more serious situation that can be difficult to treat successfully. Dogs with ruptured internal abscesses are predisposed to developing peritonitis, which can be life-threatening and carries a guarded prognosis.