Head and Facial Swelling in Cats

Head and facial swelling in cats

Swelling can occur on any part of the head and face and there are a number of possible causes. Any swelling on the face or head needs to be investigated by your veterinarian. Infection, injury, trauma can all cause swelling on your cat’s face or head.

Common causes of head and facial swelling include:

Dental abscess:

A dental abscess is a pus-filled pocket beneath the tooth causing swelling. It may be open or closed.  Common causes of dental abscess include trauma, broken tooth, and FORL lesions.

Pain and fever will accompany an abscess, your cat may display a reluctance to eat if he has a painful mouth. If it hasn’t opened up, you will notice a firm, round and warm lump either inside the mouth or outside. Once open, a foul smelling liquid will ooze out of the wound.

Treatment for a dental abscess will include removal of the affected tooth, the abscess will be lanced, and cleaned out. You will then have to give him a course of antibiotics at home to treat the infection.

Facial abscess:

Much like a dental abscess, a facial abscess is a pus-filled pocket on the skin. Most abscesses occur as a result of fighting and are in fact also known as bite wound abscess. When a cat is bitten, bacteria are injected under the skin leading to infection. As the body fights this, it walls off the affected area.

Treatment is the same, lancing the wound, cleaning it out and a course of antibiotics to kill the bacteria.


There are a number of cancers which can affect the face causing lumps and swelling. Tumours can affect any part of the face including the eye, mouth, skin, connective tissue, lymph nodes and bone. Symptoms may vary depending on the location and type of cancer but may include swelling (often unilateral), loss of appetite, hair loss, open wounds, ulceration, bleeding from the affected area (we had a cat who was taken into the vet due to a nosebleed, which turned out to be bone cancer).

Treatment depends on the type and location of the cancer and may include surgery to remove the tumour, chemotherapy or radiation.

Allergic reaction:

Food allergies are known to cause swelling in the facial area, along with contact and inhalant allergy and insect bites or stings. Itching may also accompany swelling. The cause of the allergic reaction will need to be determined. Insect bites and stings can generally be treated with a cool compress and the administration of Benadryl. If a cause is known, eliminating that from the cat’s environment is recommended. Food allergies are treated by switching your cat to a different diet, food elimination trials may be necessary to diagnose this.

Ear hematoma:

An ear hematoma is a localised collection of clotted blood within the ear, usually the result of trauma to the affected area. Symptoms include a small or large “bubble” in the ear, which will feel warm to the touch and be painful.

Treatment depends on the size of the hematoma. Small ones will be drained with a needle, with cortisone then injected into the ear. Larger hematomas will require surgery to correct, opening up the affected area to allow the fluid to drain out.

Treating the underlying cause is also necessary.

Snake bite:

Snakebites usually occur on the face, neck of front legs of the cat and cause swelling to the affected area. Snakes can be venomous or nonvenomous. Obviously venomous are by far more dangerous, but even nonvenomous bites can cause pain, inflammation and swelling to the affected area.

Treatment of snake bite wounds includes applying pressure to the affected area to stop the bleeding, administering antivenom cleaning the wound, supportive care and possibly antibiotics to treat the infection.

Any snake bites your cat receives should be seen immediately by a veterinarian.

Rodent ulcer:

A rodent (or indolent) ulcer is an inflammatory lesion which usually affects the upper lip area. It is believed that rodent ulcers are the result of an allergic reaction to insect bites or food. Symptoms are a raised, thickened red/brown ulcer which is well defined.

Treatment for rodent ulcers includes treating your cat for parasites, steroids to reduce inflammation and eliminating the cause (where known).


Cryptococcosis is a fungal infection which colonises the upper respiratory tract in cats. Immunocompromised cats are especially at risk. Symptoms include hard, nodular swellings, particularly across the nose, sneezing, nasal discharge, skin lesions on the head and lethargy.

Treatment includes antibiotic therapy and in some cases surgery to remove lesions in the nasal cavity.

Paracetamol (acetaminophen) toxicity:

Cats should not be given paracetamol, they lack the necessary enzymes to break down the drug. Symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, salivation, difficulty breathing, brown coloration of the gums ( due to methaemoglobinaemia) and of course swelling to the face (and paws). Liver damage and damage to the red blood cells are the main toxic effects of ingestion of paracetamol.

Treatment must be sought quickly if your cat has ingested paracetamol and includes inducing vomiting and administration of N-acetylcysteine to neutralise the drug. Once symptoms occur, the prognosis is poor.


Conjunctivitis is a swelling of the conjunctiva, the pink membrane which covers the front of the eyeball. There are a number of causes including infection, allergies, foreign object, and injury. Symptoms include swelling, a raw/meaty appearance around the eye, blinking, squinting, eye discharge, watering, pawing the eye.

Treatment depends on the underlying cause and may include eye irritations, antibiotics, antiviral medications, removal of the foreign object.

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