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Symptoms and Signs of Abscesses in Dogs

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015

Effects of Abscesses – From The Dog’s Point Of View

How an abscess will affect a dog depends primarily upon its location and size. Large internal abscesses may put pressure on nearby organs and tissues, which can be extremely painful. Even small or superficial skin abscesses can hurt a great deal; anyone who has ever had an inflamed, infected pimple knows how painful they can be. Dogs with skin abscesses often lick and chew at the affected areas, which can exacerbate the pain, spread the infection and cause additional trauma above and beyond the original injury. Bothering the abscess also can cause it to rupture, which contributes to more pain and infection.

Symptoms of Abscesses - What The Owner Sees

Abscesses can present in a number of different ways. Most of them are fairly unobtrusive, depending on their location and size, at least until they rupture. The symptoms and signs of abscesses may include one or more of the following:

  • Localized pain in the area of the abscess
  • Inflammation; redness; swelling at the abscess site
  • Heat at the abscess site
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Licking or chewing at the abscess site
  • Saliva staining around the abscess site
  • Hair loss around the abscess site
  • Weeping, bleeding, oozing skin wound

More specific symptoms depend upon the organ system or tissue where the abscess occurs. For example, male dogs with prostate abscesses and dogs with anal sac abscesses often “scoot” their bottoms along the floor or ground in an attempt to relieve their discomfort. A lactating bitch with abscessed mammary glands will be noticeably tender, and her teats will be inflamed, hot, hard and red. She should not be permitted to nurse her puppies from any infected teats; newborns are highly susceptible to inhaling (aspirating) milk, which if infected with bacteria and pus, can quickly lead to serious respiratory illness, and possibly death.

As an abscess progresses and affected tissue deteriorates, the area may turn black and smell putrid. When a skin abscess ruptures, which they usually will do if not lanced, they typically drain a mixture of blood and pus and are messy and painful.

Internal abscesses are difficult to detect without special instruments. A dog with pulmonary abscesses may show progressive respiratory signs, such as coughing, difficulty breathing and noisy breathing, although there may be no outward signs suggesting that lung abscesses are the cause of the dog’s discomfort.

Dogs at Increased Risk

Some breeds, including the Chinese Shar-Pei, English Bulldog and Labrador Retriever, are predisposed to developing abscesses between their toes, because their short, stiff hair shafts can get pushed back into the hair follicles and become infected. Abscesses associated with ingrown hairs can be extremely painful.

Skin, mouth and lung abscesses are more common in outdoor dogs and those that participate in hunting or other competitive canine activities, because those dogs have more opportunities to come into contact with sharp, dirty objects and to inhale or swallow grass awns or other plant material. Intact dogs, especially free-roaming unneutered males, are at an increased risk of developing abscesses from bite wounds as a result of fighting with other animals, including dogs, cats, raccoons, skunks and porcupines. Older intact males, and in particular Doberman Pinschers, have a higher incidence of prostate disease; this includes prostate abscesses. Intact bitches are more likely than spayed bitches to develop abscesses of the mammary glands.

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