TIP – Do not ignore any infection. You want to avoid a chronic infection as best you can. If you nip infections in the bud you have the best chance of stopping abscesses or getting rid of them sooner.
Abscesses are pockets of pus that are caused by bacteria & other pathogenic organisms (an organism capable of causing disease in its host).
They enter the body through a wound & can also form on:
- Internal organs such as the liver, heart & kidneys.
- The skin, usually after injury or surgery.
- The mouth generally due to an infection or dental disease.
- The ear normally due to an infection or sometimes it is secondary to dental disease.
- Tear ducts usually secondary to dental disease.
Some abscesses are formed by a foreign body such as a grass seed entering the rabbit. The bacteria can hitch a ride on such objects.
There are a lot of challenges in curing an abscess. Rabbit pus is very dificult to get rid of as it has the consistancy of thick cottage cheese making it difficult to drain. It can also spread fibrous tracks into deeper tissue spreading the bacteria.
Abscesses have to heal from the inside out & if the skin heals over too quickly some bacteria will be left. Then before long the whole process starts again & you’re back to square one.
These can all depend on the location of the abscess.
The most common are:
- Swelling seen or felt under the skin any where on the body. The swelling can feel either soft or hard.
- Loss of appetite, usually if the rabbit is in pain with the abscess. It has to be noted that some rabbits will show no pain or actually have no pain.
- Problems eating. This is not always caused by the abscess but could be an indication of dental disease or some other issue.
- An abscess in the head can produce pus out of the eye sockets & nose.
Any internal abscesses are difficult to detect unless they are actually producing symptoms in the rabbit.
This all depends on the individual abscess. It’s location, size & how well your rabbit is needs to be taken into account. You will need to have a thorough discussion with your vet as each case is usually different.
Some treatment options:
- The abscess is opened & drained. This can be very difficult as rabbit pus is like thick cottage cheese & does not want to drain away easily.
- Some abscesses are left & monitored. This is sometimes considered if the rabbit is well, the abscess is contained & the owner does not wish to have extensive surgery on their rabbit. However, this comes with a risk that if it does start to change & grow you may end up operating on a much older & sicker rabbit. Also the open cavity may be much larger. An honest & thorough discussion is required with your vet.
- An aggressive course of antibiotics. You must be prepared for a long battle & at the end of it there is a good chance the abscess will return. Therefore it is imperative that you & your vet are as sure as you can be that the infection has gone. Nowadays, there are also different ways of administering antibiotics to some of the more difficult abscesses. Antibiotic beads can now be used & implanted into the cavity, these release antibiotics slowly for up to 4 weeks & help stop the cavity refilling with pus. However, as with everything you always get a flip side. The body can treat the beads as a foreign body & at some point they may have to be removed. There is also a gel that can be used to fill the cavity.
The advantage of these methods is that the cavity can be stitched closed. Meaning less handling & medicating your rabbit. Once again though you will need to have a good discussion with your vet on the options available & what is right for your bunny.
I have to admit, an abscess is one of my greatest fears for my bunnies. They are notoriously difficult to cure, can appear in the most horrendous places & it can be one of the longest battles you’ll ever face. Then after all that it comes back!
My first experience of an abscess in one of my rabbits was in a male Dutch rabbit called Comfrey. It all started at the age of 4. Up until then he had been a fit & healthy bun. The first thing I noticed was one of his eyes was starting to bulge, other than that he had no other symptoms.
Now I must stress this was back in the early nineties. Anaesthetics , experience & knowledge were limited.
At the vets an abscess was suspected so a course of antibiotics were prescribed. This back then was no easy feat, as the antibiotics often caused severe digestive problems & could not be given for a prolonged period. The antibiotics started with a vengeance much to Comfrey’s distress. He became very stressed at having his twice daily dose administered & it definitely helped to knock him off his food. Fortunately, he would eat enough to keep him ticking over but was losing weight.
As the 10 day course continued I noticed the eye was bulging more & more. He was going downhill too. I returned to the vets. His eye was bulging so much it was obvious the abscess was growing & the antibiotics weren’t helping. He had also started to loose some balance & was not quite compus mentus. It looked like the abscess had got to his brain. After a discussion I had him put to sleep as there was nothing more that could be done for him. I learnt in later years that this kind of abscess, one that sits behind the eye, is called a retrobulbar abscess. Today, it is still difficult to treat, but there are more options available.
My second experience was with my large male crossbreed called Casanova. This was also back in the nineties.
He was 3 years old when I noticed he was limping on his front leg. On investigating his leg I found a lump under his skin. Other than the lump & limp he showed no other symptoms. At the vets a suspected abscess was diagnosed. This time it was decided to operate & it was confirmed as an abscess. They opened & drained it the best they could. It was then a course of antibiotics, administered twice a day. I also had to empty & clean his open wound of pus twice a day. Fortunately, Cas was not in the least perturbed by all this handling.
Half way through the course of antibiotics he began with his stomach upsets, but we had to persevere as it was going so well. The only thing I was advised to do was withdraw all his vegetables. We finished the course of antibiotics & it had much improved but you cannot leave a speck of the bacteria behind, otherwise within days you’d be back to square one. So it was back to the antibiotics which we did have to keep stopping intermittently. This meant that everytime we stopped we took steps backwards until we could start again.
Quite frankly it was a hard slog as this went on for several months. We got in a routine of administering the antibiotics, judging how long he could last with a stomach upset & how long we could stop the antibiotics. Eventually, we got there & finally his wound was allowed to heal. The next month was a very anxious time as there was always a good chance it would return but fortunately it never did & he went on to live until the age of 9. We never found out what caused the abscess.
My next experience was with my male Dwarf Lop, Smokey. He was 6 years old. He’d had a sore eye in the past which was from a skirmish with one of my other bunnies. This was dealt with & sorted out. A short time later he seemed irritated with his ears & had a build up of ear wax. He was also slightly off his food. These were the only symptoms, other than that he was well in himself. On inspection of his ears at the vets there was a solid white ‘plug’ inside his ears which the vet removed & underneath was a mass of thick pus. It was decided to flush his ears which was done. A huge amount of pus came out. He then had a course of antibiotics & we were hopeful we’d got everything.
Unfortunately, the pus returned not long after the antibiotics stopped. He was put straight back on the antibiotics. Just to point out we are much later into the 90s now & the antibiotics didn’t cause the severe stomach upsets as before.
Over the course of the next few months it was a case of antibiotics & emptying his ears everyday. You could literally squeeze the pus out of his ears. One ear we were managing to keep well controlled, the other as time went by became increasingly difficult to keep at a good level. It had also become apparent that his infection had now become chronic. Even though he had more ear flushes when too much pus had built up, the flushes were never going to get the remaining bacterial infection out of all of his ear chambers.
We had no option but to go on a maintenance plan, this consisted of regular ear emptying & cleaning, flushes & antibiotics when required. We felt this was the best option as Smokey was generally in good health, happy, being his naughty self & was not phased by the maintenance. This continued to the age of 8 & that is when he started to deteriorate. His immune system was struggling & he had started to lose weight. He was also experiencing some age related problems.
He lasted several more months having regular reviews but Flystrike struck him Read about Smokey’s flystrike & I had to have him put to sleep.
My Last experience, touchwood, of an abscess, was in Bubbles my 6 year old crossbreed. As soon as I adopted her I had her spayed as it was likely she was already starting with uterine cancer at that age. After the spay operation whilst checking her surgery wound, I noticed a discoloured part of her skin & what looked like a hole. See photo above. I took her to the vets & it would seem that she’d had a small abscess around a couple of the stitches. The abscess had in fact burst & the ‘hole’ I could see was in actual fact a very deep red scab. Miraculously, she did not have an infection, the pus must have come out & drained away from her. I had to monitor her even more closely to make sure no infection returned. I think Bubbles was very lucky & we got away with no antibiotics because the abscess was so small & had burst early on.
Within my bunnies, Rumble had an allergy that caused him to be very snotty some days & sometimes makes one of his eyes water. Read more about Rumble’s allergy. For Rumble the constant mucus he had put him at great risk of developing an abscess within the head area. I absolutely kept on top of any sign of too much mucus, his watery eye & anything else suspicious around his head.
It was my worst fear that he developed an abscess & then a chronic infection. There was no doubt in my mind that it will shorten his life. In the end, we think that is what happened, only the abscesses were within his chest not around his head. It’s possible one of these abscesses burst inside his chest & that ended his life. To read more about Rumble’s final day, click the link above.