Dog: Abscess

General information

Other common/scientific names: pus filled swelling

An abscess is a collection of pus usually in the form of a lump or sac. Abscesses can be located anywhere on a dog’s body including on the skin, muscle, mouth, eye, ear and internal organs. In the initial stages of an abscess, the body’s immune system detects an abnormality and sends white blood cells to the area to rid the body of the bacteria, foreign material or dead cells. Pus is formed when the white blood cells die and accumulate in the affected area. The immune system walls off this area by forming a fibrous capsule keeping the pus confined to one area.


Common causes of abscesses include:

Cardinal symptom



A swelling will form at the location of the abscess. Fresh abscesses will be firm because the white blood cells have not begun to die and liquefy. Older abscesses will be soft to touch. The abscess is usually painful to touch and may have a scab or ooze purulent material. When opened, the pus material is yellow, yellow-green or yellow-orange in color with a foul odor. Depending on the size and cause, some dogs may develop a fever and lack of appetite.

Abb. GFKOLDQ9: Skin Abscess.
This is a photograph of a small dog with an abscess caused by a bite. This abscess has been lanced and is draining yellow-orange pus.


An abscess is diagnosed by a physical examination. A small needle can be inserted into the abscess to obtain a sample of the contents. While the appearance of pus is diagnostic, the sample can be examined under the microscope to identify cells. In cases where the abscess does not respond to treatment or is recurring, a sample can be sent to a laboratory for a culture and sensitivity to indentify the specific bacterial infection.


For abscesses that have not ruptured and are soft, the abscess can be lanced and the pus drained from the swelling. Depending on the location of the abscess, this may require sedation. Once drained, the abscess is flushing with sterile saline and an antibacterial rinse. Antibiotics are usually administered to hasten healing. Pain medication may also be administered. Large abscesses or abscesses caused by a penetrating foreign object may need to be opened, dissected and inspected under general anesthesia.


Most abscesses respond well to treatment.


The best way to prevent an abscess is to prevent injuries which can cause an abscess. Keeping your dog away from aggressive dogs, cats and wildlife can prevent abscesses. Prompt veterinary treatment following animal bites, trauma or penetrating wounds can prevent abscesses.


Notify your veterinarian immediately of any abnormal swellings. Apply a warm compress to the affected area to reduce swelling and pain.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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