Abscesses in Rabbits

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By :  Victoria Carey

Abscesses occur in rabbits when opportunist bacteria enters a wound, caused by an injury or in the mouth around a tooth or hair socket where abscess matter can accumulate. The tenancy to reoccur is common in rabbits. The prognosis is variable and depends on the site and whether the bone has been affected (osteomylitis). Abscesses can occur anywhere in the rabbit’s body and they are particularly common in the mouth of a rabbit or around the head.

In the treatment of skin abscesses, I have packed the wound with Manuka honey (available from health food stores) after flushing out the cavity with a weak solution of hydrogen peroxide. I have had a lot of success in the treatment of abscesses with Manuka honey. It is particularly good at tackling infections caused by streptococcus bacteria.

The most common abscesses in rabbits are caused by dental problems. Rabbits with reverse occluding incisors can develop abscesses due to their need to have the teeth trimmed/filed to the correct length every few weeks. This can loosen the roots of the incisors, which can lead to an abscess. Sometimes a vet will recommend permanent incisor removal of the maloccluding front teeth which are useless to the rabbit. Rabbits can manage without their front teeth as they have prehensile lips, meaning that the lips can pick up food, rather like an elephant’s trunk. If you opt for permanent incisor removal, then vegetables must be chopped and cubed to make it easy for the rabbit to pick them up. Lack of calcium can also cause the tooth socket to distort which creates pockets where food accumulates and leads to infection. Sometimes, the continuously growing back teeth can grow past the stop points and the roots on the upper jaw can grow, sometimes penetrating the eye socket. At this stage, the prognosis is poor even with treatment, and it may be kinder to have the rabbit euthanased. Roots of the bottom jaw can also grow into the jaw bone and set up an infection.

All kind of abscesses require careful monitoring and should be treated by a vet, especially around the head or in the mouth. Sometimes, when an abscess is found on the body, the vet can remove the whole abscess capsule, and antibiotic treatment is given to ward off remaining infection. One should look out for an abscess if the rabbit’s appetite suddenly declines and the rabbit starts loosing weight or starts drooling. An abscess caused by a dental problem will present itself in the form of a solid lump under the chin or sometimes, but less commonly on the side of the jaw. The lump does not move when it is palpated. These types of abscess are difficult to treat, as it is virtually impossible to remove all of the infection from around an infected tooth. Abscesses of this nature can also branch out, causing infection on other parts of the rabbit’s body.

Vets usually tackle abscesses with aggressive debriding of the contents and leaving the wound open so that it can be cleaned twice daily and can heal from the inside up. Sometimes, a vet will put a rabbit with a dental abscess on antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs for the rest of its life, as these abscesses nearly always reoccur. Culture swabs taken will determine which type of bacteria has caused the abscess, so that an appropriate antibiotic can be chosen. In a lot of cases, the infection will spread to the jaw bone (osteomylitis). Even though these abscesses can be managed, they never really do go away. A rabbit can live for several years with a jaw abscess, but unfortunately, the condition is life-limiting. Eventually the roots of the teeth will rot, which leads to a chain of other problems.

I have had first hand experienced of treating osteomylitis in one of my own rabbits. I attach below the link to ‘Fred’s Story’, which tells of my struggle with one of my beloved bunnies against this awful disease: Author Resource:-  http://exoticpets.about.com/od/rabbitshealth/a/fredrabbitosteo.htm

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