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Abscesses in Dogs

What are Abscesses in Dogs?

An abscess is a localized area of inflammation typically surrounded by tissue. It contains a center filled with thick liquid or solid material, which includes white blood cells, dead tissue, and sometimes bacteria.

There are four common locations for abscesses in dogs:

  • Teeth: Dental abscesses involve infection at the root of a tooth. The infection often erodes the surrounding bony socket, leading to inflammation of the gum.
  • Skin: Trauma from bites, splinters, or sharp objects can introduce bacteria and debris under the skin. As the wound heals, bacteria and debris may become trapped, resulting in the formation of a fluid-filled, inflamed lump.
  • Hot spots (acute moist dermatitis): These are abscesses that form on the skin’s surface, often due to skin allergies. Itchy areas lead to excessive chewing or licking, causing bacteris. If the fluid thickens and doesn’t drain properly, it accumulates, leading to inflammation of the anal sac.
  • Infected neoplastic mass: Cancerous masses can become abscessed if they outgrow their blood supply. These masses may remain unchanged for a while before suddenly becoming painful and inflamed.al and/or yeast infections.
  • Anal sac: Dogs have internal sacs on either side of the anus containing a fluid emptied during bowel movement.
  • Infected neoplastic mass: Cancerous masses can become abscessed if they outgrow their blood supply. These masses may remain unchanged for a while before suddenly becoming painful and inflamed.


The symptoms of abscesses in dogs vary depending on the site of the abscess:

  • Dental abscesses cause pain and may be accompanied by an odor or drooling, sometimes with blood. Dogs with dental abscesses may show reluctance to eat hard food or treats, preferring soft options instead. Avid chewers may cease enjoying toys and bones they previously liked. Facial swelling in the area of the affected tooth may also occur.
  • Skin abscesses present as painful, warm, and either soft or firm lumps. If the abscess forms on a paw or leg, limping may be noticeable. Dogs may vocalize or flinch if the abscess site is touched.
  • Anal sac abscess pain can lead to excessive licking under the tail, scooting on the floor, or straining during bowel movements. If the anal sac ruptures through the skin, drainage from the site may be observed.


  • Dental abscesses:
      • Dental disease characterized by tartar buildup and inflammation of the gums.
      • Fractured (broken) teeth allowing bacteria to invade the pulp cavity.
      • Presence of foreign materials in the mouth, such as bone fragments, sticks, metal, plant matter, or hair.
  • Skin abscesses:
      • Any form of penetrating trauma, including bite wounds or stepping on foreign objects.
      • Excessive licking or chewing triggered by skin allergies.
  • Anal sac abscesses:
    • Blockage of the anal sac duct (tube) by thickened anal sac material, preventing proper emptying.


Abscesses are typically diagnosed during a physical examination. If a veterinarian detects a firm lump, they may conduct a fine needle aspirate procedure. This involves inserting a needle into the mass to collect cells. The sample is then examined under a microscope to identify the types of cells present. Abscess samples usually contain abundant white blood cells, and bacteria or fungal organisms may be observed.

If an abscess does not respond to initial treatment, fluid or material from the site can be cultured in an incubator to grow the bacteria present. Subsequently, antibiotics are tested to determine which will be most effective. Just as in humans, dogs can harbor bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.


Veterinarians may recommend various treatment options based on the dog’s diagnosis. One approach involves opening and draining the site while eliminating the source of infection. This could entail extracting an abscessed tooth, removing foreign material lodged under the skin, or flushing the anal sac duct to restore proper drainage.

Simple skin abscesses may be managed under local anesthesia, depending on their location. However, complex sites, especially those involving the face, or complicated cases like dental or large abscesses, may require general anesthesia. Trimming away hair to clean hot spots can often be performed without anesthesia. Nonetheless, some hot spots may be very painful, necessitating sedation for clipping and cleaning.

Oral antibiotics are frequently prescribed for dogs with abscesses, along with pain medication, including anti-inflammatory drugs. Additionally, applying warm compresses to painful, inflamed sites helps improve blood circulation and promotes cleanliness. Pet owners are often advised to perform this procedure at home for several days.

Living and Management

Typically, once the underlying cause of the abscess is addressed and the dog receives appropriate treatment, the abscess begins to resolve rapidly, usually within 2-3 days. Consequently, the dog should experience noticeable improvement in its condition.

Your veterinarian will likely schedule a follow-up examination for your dog approximately a week or two into the treatment to assess the progress of the abscess site. For long-term management, your vet will provide recommendations regarding future dental care, particularly for dental abscesses, routine expression of the anal sacs for cases of anal sac abscesses, and management strategies for skin allergies associated with hot spots.

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