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The Four Stages of Cats Wounds Healing

Grumpy cat in a carrier

When your cat has an injury that has caused damage to their skin, or the tissues underlying their skin, it is referred to as a wound. A wound is more specific from a generalized injury because it particularly focuses on damages caused to the flesh of your pet. This can happen in a wide variety of ways, everything from surgeries, serious accidents, or even cat fights can cause your feline friend to sustain a wound. You can find out about the 4 phases of the cat wound healing process below. But keep in mind, if your cat has an open wound, follow the explicit instructions of your veterinarian.

Cats fighting in a field
It’s common for neighborhood cats to fight, particularly at night time, but this largely harmless practice can cause a pretty serious injury on your feline friend.

First Phase: Inflammatory

The Inflammation Will Start Immediately

The first stage of a cat wound is referred to as the inflammatory stage. The reason the area around a wound becomes inflamed is because the healing process needs to control the amount of blood loss, to reduce the overall extent of the initial injury, and activating the immune system, to prevent additional injuries from taking through infection or sickness. A few minutes after the blood vessels first constrict to control blood loss, the process will reverse. When the blood vessels dilate it causes swelling and redness around the injury that causes the appearance of inflammation. 

There are five apparent signs that will allow you to know if your cat’s injury is in the inflammatory stage or not. If you notice any, or all of, the following symptoms, your cat’s wound is likely in the inflammatory stage. First, is there any kind of unusual redness around the injury? Is there a feeling of increased heat emanating from the wound? Do you notice additional swelling around the injury? Does your pet act as if it’s in pain or cry out in sounds of anguish? Has your cat appeared to lose any function in the part of their body that the injury is located? If you answered to any combination of these questions then that means the wound is fresh and the inflammatory process is in effect. 

Second Phase: Debridement 

Starts In A Few Hours

Debridement is the stage of a cat’s healing process for a wound that begins immediately after the inflammatory process has ended. The debridement stage occurs naturally and is responsible for removing unwanted, or unneeded materials away from the wound. Wound fluids and pus will flow away from the wound in order to remove bacteria, dead skin cells, and other debris away from the wound. After the wound has been flushed of materials and debris, a specific type of white blood cells that were called to the wound in the inflammatory process begin consuming dead tissues from the wounded area and cleansing whatever bacteria and debris might have been left behind.

Third Phase: Reparation

Starts In A Couple Days

The repair stage, sometimes called the granulation or proliferation phase, begins after the debridement stage and is responsible for repairing the wound and building it back up to normal. Kind of like how cities are repaired after fires and natural disasters the reparation stage is all about building back and restoring what was damaged.

Unlike when a city is repaired by workers after a disaster, the reparation stage happens all the way down at the cellular level. The body begins to produce collagen to fill the wound and bind all of the torn tissues back together. It can take several weeks for the torn tissues to be fully bound together, but after they are, new blood vessels begin to sprout from the large healthy blood vessels nearby. After the collagen has bound the tissue back together, and the blood vessels have begun to connect, the body begins producing new tissue called granulation tissue. This is the soft pink tissue that appears as the wound begins to heal. It should look familiar to you because it is similar to what happens on your body after a cut or scrape. As the wound fills up with the granulation tissue it will also begin to shrink or contract .

The appearance of wet  pink granulation tissue means the wound is healing appropriately. Image courtesy of Today's Veterinary Practice.

Fourth Phase: Wound Maturation 

Starts in 2-3 Weeks But Can Take Months or Even Years

If the wound was originally caused by a surgery, then it is unlikely that much time is needed for the production of granulation tissue. Most likely the production of granulation tissue is unnecessary when a pet undergoes a surgery. The surgeon is able to make such precise incisions, and use sutures to close the wound, that a large production of granulation tissue is unnecessary. If this is the case the body undergoes primary intention. A stage where new skin begins to form over the wound within two days.

cat at a vet
When operations are performed by veterinarians, the wounds are often fully closed by sutures or stitches. Image courtesy of Cat Tree.

If the wound was too large to be closed using stitches or sutures this is called secondary intention. After all of the collagen has been deposited and the wound has been filled in with new granulation tissue the maturation, and final, stage begins. This oftentimes takes on the appearance of scar tissue forming. As the wound continues to heal, the scar will continue to become stronger. New blood tissue will begin to form and new nerve endings will be created to replace those that were lost during the original injury. While scar tissue never quite returns to the strength of the original tissue, it should ultimately end up being almost as strong as your cat’s original uninjured tissues. 

Remember to always listen to the advice of your veterinarian when you can. Make sure your cat has an opportunity to completely heal their wound. Keep them safe and sound, and certainly away from neighborhood cat fights, for at least several days whenever they obtain a wound.

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