Owner examining cat’s face with both hands

Key takeaway

There are many causes of facial swelling in cats ranging from mild to severe. The most common cause is allergies, but swelling and inflammation may also indicate something more sinister, like a painful abscess or cancer. Taking your cat to the vet for examination and treatment is key to ensuring their health.

As a cat parent, we bet you probably spend a lot of time looking at your cat. That's why you always seem to know when something is wrong. However, if you look at your cat and notice their face is swollen, it could be a cause for concern. Some face swelling causes are serious and can be life-threatening, so it's important to call your vet as soon as you notice your cat's face is swollen. 

Facial swelling in cats means your cat's face looks slightly puffier than usual. Unfortunately, swelling may be difficult to spot, especially on cats with long fur or naturally fuller faces, but as the swelling progresses, you may start to wonder when it's time to take your cat to the vet. Cat face swelling can be gradual or sudden, depending on the cause. Unfortunately, pet parents can't diagnose facial swelling on their own since there are so many potential causes, including allergies, toxins, dental problems, trauma, and more. This article will discuss facial swelling in cats, including its causes and treatments. 

What Is Facial Swelling In Cats?

Facial swelling is the enlargement of the face due to inflamed facial tissues

Facial swelling in cats occurs for many of the same reasons it might in humans and can be understood as when the face is enlarged due to inflammation. The most common causes are allergic reactions, infections, and injuries.1 However, other underlying conditions can cause facial swelling in cats. For example, if your cat has an allergic reaction, they might experience swelling on the muzzle, ears, and around the eyes, which is most noticeable in cats with short coats.2 Swelling can develop gradually or suddenly, depending on the underlying cause. 

Causes Of Facial Swelling In Cats

There are many causes of facial swelling in cats, but only a vet can diagnose and treat your cat. If your cat is experiencing swelling of any kind, take them to the vet as soon as possible because it could indicate a life-threatening health concern. Facial swelling causes in cats include: 

Allergic Reactions

One of the most common causes of facial swelling in cats is an allergic reaction in which the immune system overreacts due to a sensitivity to substances. Cats can be allergic to almost anything, including food, pollen, medication, and certain household chemicals. They can also suffer from feline atopic dermatitis, also known as skin allergies, in which a cat's skin overreacts to environmental allergens.3 Skin allergies can cause inflammation of the skin, which results in swelling. 

Cats can also have allergic reactions to insect bites and stings. For example, cats that have flea allergies will experience swelling and inflammation where fleas bite the cat. However, any insect bite or sting can cause an allergic reaction, including bites from ants, fleas, bees, wasps, flies, mosquitos, scorpions, and spiders.4

Since cats can be allergic to the bite or venom of insects, they may experience minor to severe swelling at the injury site. Many cats may also get hives; in severe cases, anaphylaxis can occur, a medical emergency requiring treatment.4

Cysts

Cysts are another possible cause of cat face swelling. Cysts are closed pockets of tissue that can form anywhere on the body, including the face. It can be filled with fluid, air, or pus.5 Cat facial swelling may also be due to salivary mucocele, in which the saliva leaks from the gland or duct and accumulates in the surrounding tissue.6

Hematomas

Hematomas occur when blood pools in an organ or tissue and typically occur when there's a broken blood vessel that can be due to surgery or an injury.7 For example, if your cat receives an injection and the needle goes too deep into the tissue, blood vessels can break and cause clotted blood to pool near the injection site. 

An aural hematoma can occur when the blood vessel bursts on the cat's ear, filling it with blood that develops into a pocket in the cat's ear flap.8 If your cat has an aural hematoma, the swelling will occur in the ear. 

Abscesses

Two different types of abscesses can cause cat face swelling: infected trauma from a wound or bite and dental abscess. 

  1. Infected trauma abscess: An infected trauma abscess can occur if your cat is bitten on the face during a fight with another animal. Animals have bacteria in their mouths that can penetrate your cat's skin and cause an infection.9 Since cats have sharp teeth, they can penetrate deeply into your cat's face, leaving bacteria behind that cause inflammation near the bite wound.10 Other signs of infected trauma abscesses include pain, fever, lethargy, and reduced appetite. 
  2. Dental abscess: A dental abscess typically occurs due to periodontal disease or gum disease in which there's an infection of the gums that cause inflammation. The infection can lead to the destruction of the bone, spreading to the soft tissues of the face and causing swelling. If your cat has a dental abscess or periodontal disease, they might have a reduced appetite because of the pain, or you may notice bad breath. 

Tumors

Tumors are one of the more severe causes of facial swelling because they can indicate cancer. There are two types of tumors: benign tumors, which don't spread, and malignant tumors, which indicate cancer and invade the surrounding body tissue, potentially spreading to other organs.12 Tumors are more common in dogs than cats, but cats with tumors are more likely to have cancer like lymphoma, the most common cancer in cats.13 Lymphoma in cats is a cancer of the lymphatic system in which the lymph nodes swell and can cause facial swelling in the neck and jaw.14

Treating Your Cat's Swollen Face

Treatment for your cat's swollen face will depend on the underlying cause. Therefore, you must have them examined by a vet. Since swelling can indicate a life-threatening illness, schedule an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. Of course, some causes of swelling are minor. Here are a few of the possible treatments you can expect for your cat's swollen face based on the different underlying causes:

  • Allergic Reaction: If your cat is suffering from an allergic reaction, your vet will likely prescribe steroids and antihistamines. However, if the allergic reaction is severe and affects your cat's breathing, they will need veterinary attention immediately, requiring intravenous injections and fluids.2
  • Hematoma or Cyst: If your cat has a hematoma or cyst, your vet may use needle aspiration or surgical drainage to drain the fluids.15 However, some cysts may come back, so your vet may need to drain them regularly. Hematomas may also go away on their own, depending on the cause. However, aural hematomas can take months to resolve on their own and cause deformation of the ear, so they should be treated as soon as possible. 
  • Infected Trauma Abscess: If your cat's face is swelling due to an infected trauma abscess from a bite or wound, your vet will clean and drain the wound while giving you antibiotics and teaching you how to give medicine to your cat. They may also give you instructions for at-home care.9
  • Tooth Abscess: Cats with tooth abscesses will require pain medication and antibiotics after surgery. The surgery will require extracting the tooth to prevent the bacteria from spreading throughout the jaw.11 Since periodontal disease can be life-threatening, you should continue to monitor your cat's dental health and consider brushing their teeth regularly, or talk to your vet about how you can keep your cat's mouth clean. 
  • Tumors: Cats with benign tumors won't need any treatment unless the tumor is affecting their everyday life. For example, if a cat has a tumor around their mouth and it makes it difficult for them to eat, a vet may suggest removing it. However, cats with cancerous tumors will have different treatment options available to them, including diagnoses through various tests like x-rays, ultrasounds, and biopsies to find the location, size, and type of tumor. If the tumor is found to be cancerous, your vet may suggest chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation.12

Facial swelling coupled with difficulty breathing requires immediate medical attention

Preventing Facial Swelling In Cats

Unfortunately, you can't always prevent facial swelling in cats because there are so many different causes. However, you can prevent some of the causes of facial swelling. A few underlying causes that you can treat or manage include: 

  • Keeping your cat away from other animals to avoid fighting and bites that result in abscesses and infections
  • Keeping indoor cats inside to avoid insect bites and stings
  • Treating allergies that can result in facial swelling
  • Dental care for cats to prevent dental abscesses due to periodontal disease

Sadly, there's no way to prevent lymphoma in cats. However, early diagnosis can improve your cat's outcome by starting treatment while the cancer is still in its early stages.  

My Cat's Face Is Swollen: FAQs

Can you give cats Benadryl for swelling?

Benadryl is a safe and effective cat allergy treatment that can reduce swelling. However, before you try to treat your cat's swelling at home, they should be diagnosed by a vet. Always confirm your cat's swelling is due to allergies and not another underlying health problem. Additionally, depending on the severity of your cat's allergies, they may require different antihistamines. Some cats should not take antihistamines, especially since Benadryl can cause interactions with other drugs they're on. 

What is the best antihistamine for cats?

There are many different antihistamines for cats, but you should never give any to your pet without first talking to your vet. First, your vet must confirm your cat has allergies to ensure you're not masking a more serious underlying illness. Additionally, while antihistamines can help your cat be more comfortable when suffering from allergies, they're not a cure. Instead, they only treat the symptoms. Therefore, you should work with your vet to determine what your cat is allergic to. 

Is it normal for cats to scratch their face?

Cats often scratch and groom their faces, but itchy skin could indicate cat allergies. While a few scratches here and there are completely normal, if your cat is scratching more than usual, they should be examined by a vet for possible causes.

Cat scratching their own face with hind leg 

Final Notes

When your cat's face is swollen, the best thing you can do to ensure their health is to visit a vet as soon as possible. Never try to treat your cat's swollen face on your own, as it may not be treating their illness. Additionally, since there are many causes of facial swelling in cats, including some that are life-threatening, you should take your cat to the vet no matter what. 

The most common cause of facial swelling in cats is allergies, but it can be a sign of something more serious like cancer. Talk to a Dutch vet today to help understand what's going on with your cat and how you can help. We can help treat your cat's allergies and diagnose any underlying illnesses causing inflammation and swelling of the face. 

References

  1. Kudrath, Abdulla. “Facial Swelling: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment.” Angleton ER, 22 Dec. 2021, https://angletoner.com/facial-swelling/.

  2. “5 Signs Your Pet Is Having an Allergic Reaction.” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/5-signs-your-pet-having-allergic-reaction.

  3. Tizard, Ian. “Disorders Involving Anaphylactic Reactions (Type I Reactions, Atopy) in Cats - Cat Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, 18 Aug. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/veterinary/cat-owners/immune-disorders-of-cats/disorders-involving-anaphylactic-reactions-type-i-reactions,-atopy-in-cats#v3245260.

  4. “Treating Venomous Insect Stings in Cats.” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/cat/emergency/poisoning-toxicity/treating-venomous-insect-stings-cats.

  5. “NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms.” National Cancer Institute, https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/cyst.

  6. “Salivary Mucocele.” ACVS, https://www.acvs.org/small-animal/salivary-mucocele.

  7. “NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms.” National Cancer Institute, https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/hematoma.

  8. Weishaupt, Jeffrey. “Aural Hematoma in Cats: Causes, Treatment, and More.” WebMD, https://pets.webmd.com/cats/what-is-aural-hematoma-cats.

  9. “Cat Abscesses.” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/skin/c_ct_abscessation.

  10. Kilshaw, Daniel. “Cat Abscesses: Symptoms, Treatment and Advice.” Animal Trust, 13 Aug. 2021, https://www.animaltrust.org.uk/conditions/abcesses-cats/.

  11. “Cat Tooth Abscess.” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/mouth/c_ct_tooth_root_abscess.

  12. “Cancer in Cats.” International Cat Care, 3 Feb. 2020, https://icatcare.org/advice/cancer-in-cats/.

  13. “Lymphoma.” International Cat Care, 6 Oct. 2019, https://icatcare.org/advice/lymphoma/.

  14. “Lymphoma.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 17 June 2021, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/lymphoma.

  15. “Aural Hematoma.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 21 May 2018, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/aural-hematoma.