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Abscesses in Rabbits

By: Dr. Branson Ritchie

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Abscesses in rabbits are a common and potentially serious problem. They are accumulations of pus that are formed by tissue degeneration and surrounded by a thick, scar tissue capsule. Abscesses form when bacteria or foreign bodies like splinters, lodge in tissue and cause a persistent infection. Abscesses are filled with a thick, creamy material called pus and can form in any tissue in the body.

The most common causes of abscesses in rabbits are bite wounds that become infected, tooth root infections, sinus infections and tear duct infections. Treatment of abscess in rabbits is different than treatment in dogs or cats, where antibiotics and simple lancing and draining of pus is often curative. Rabbits make a very thick pus that does not drain well, and the scar tissue capsule is usually very thick. Treatment of abscesses in rabbits almost always requires surgery.

What to Watch For

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Signs of irritation or pain
  • Excessive grooming
  • Itchiness
  • Discharge
  • Moistened fur
  • A firm, painful mass
  • Drooling
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Facial swelling
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

    Diagnosis

    Your veterinarian will not only have to diagnosis your rabbit's abscess – he will also have to determine what caused the abscess. Some tests that might be ordered are:

  • History and physical examination, including a thorough oral examination (which sometimes requires sedation)
  • Complete blood count
  • Blood chemistry
  • Cytology (microscopic evaluation of cells)
  • Biopsy and microscopic evaluation of affected tissues
  • Culture and antimicrobial sensitivity testing
  • Radiographs (X-rays)
  • Ultrasound

    Treatment

    Treatment of your rabbit will involve ridding the body of the abscess and making sure your pet remains healthy. This may include:

  • Surgical removal of affected tissues
  • Surgically opening and flushing the abscess, along with packing the abscess pocket with a material that has antibiotic properties
  • Follow up treatment, consisting of re-packing or re-flushing the abscess pocket
  • Antibiotics
  • Fluids and supportive nutrition

    Home Care

    Proper care at home is critical, especially if your rabbit does not rapidly improve. Your veterinarian will give specific instructions for helping to care for your pet.

    To prevent the abscess from returning, give all medications for the entire time period that they are prescribed, even if the abscess appears to have healed completely.

    Keep infected rabbits in isolation during treatment. Monitor food intake and fecal output daily to assure proper food and water consumption and monitor weight daily.

    Preventative Care

    There are some important things you can do to help prevent your rabbit from forming an abscess. Keep sharp objects away from your rabbit and keep his living area clean and sanitized.

    Avoid contact between rabbits and other animals that may result in puncture wounds from teeth or nails. To prevent life-threatening foot infections (pododermatitis), make sure your rabbit does not become obese. Use a soft bedding material and keep it dry.

    Prevent your rabbit from chewing on sharp or fibrous objects that may cut the gums or inside of the mouth or that may splinter and cause penetrating wounds in the mouth.

    If your companion rabbit is scratched or cut, see your veterinarian as soon as possible so the wound can be properly cleaned and treated.

    Feed high quality grass or Timothy hay daily to keep the cheek teeth (molars) trim. Tooth root infections, caused by overgrown or uneven wear of cheek teeth, is the most common cause of facial abscesses.

    See your veterinarian for treatment of watery eyes, sneezing or nasal discharge as soon as they are noticed. Untreated sinus, nasal or tear duct infections can result in abscesses.

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