Abscesses in Rabbits

What is an abscess?

An abscess is a cavity that is filled with pus which can be observed in an affected animal. In most cases it can have a similar appearance to a spot. The infected area is inflamed. It will be sore or very painful to the touch. It is also usually warmer and redder in colour than the rest of the body.   

Abscesses are often found in places where pathogens or foreign bodies are able to enter the animal such as an abrasion of the skin, a wound or an orifice. The rabbit’s immune system response has the aim to remove, or destroy, the pathogen or foreign body. As a result pus is produced.

Abscesses can be seen in all animals although domestic rabbits are found to have the problems more commonly than other species. Abscesses are able to affect almost all areas of the rabbit and are likely to reoccur regularly. This includes skin, teeth, bones, the mouth, head, behind the eyes, and hair sockets.

Signs and Symptoms of Abscesses in Rabbits

The abscess will feel quite firm and will sometimes look much like a spot. Thick, creamy pus is a clear sign of an abscess. It can be extremely painful to the touch and will be redder and warmer than the rest of the body. The animal may lose its appetite and thus weight. Lethargy or depression may also be a result of an abscess. If any abnormal masses appears then these may be abscesses. There will be swelling and inflammation around the affected area and the rabbit may constantly itch or groom itself here.

When the animal self grooms or itches when there is no visible abscess on the skin it may suggest the presence of an abscess under the skin or in the rabbit’s tissues.  This is known as a deep abscess and discharge may leave the rabbit causing wet fur as a result. If the rabbit has an abscess behind the eye, then the eye will bulge and the rabbit will be in extreme pain. Swelling around the jaw area may indicate an abscess around the tooth. This is called a tooth rot abscess. Abscesses in the mouth can lead to excess salivation and occasionally bad breath. 

Medical Diagnosis for Rabbit Abscesses

The initial diagnosis of abscesses in rabbits involves observing the signs and symptoms presented. Medical history of the rabbit is also taken into account. Following this, different methods of diagnosis may be used to confirm the presence of an abscess.

A swab may be taken and the pathogens cultured and identified. A full blood count may be necessary as well as a biopsy. Tissue samples from the affected area may be observed under a microscope. In some cases the rabbit may even be X-rayed.

How do rabbits get abscesses?

There are many factors which can cause an abscess in a rabbit. Different types of Pasteurella bacteria can lead to abscesses, including Pasteurella multocidaStaphylococcus aureus is another cause of abscesses in rabbits. If the skin is broken, via abrasions or open wounds, then infection can enter and cause an abscess. Wounds as a result of fighting and biting can initially seem to heal successfully although sometimes an abscess may later form. Tooth abscesses may result from a lack of calcium and if the eye is scratched then this can also lead to infection. Tooth rot or ear duct infections may also result in abscesses.  

When are rabbits more likely to get abscesses?

Rabbits kept in areas where they are prone to infections are likely to have abscesses. This is especially likely in overcrowded or unclean environments. However, some areas may be very clean with no overcrowding and the rabbit can still get an abscess.

What can I do if my rabbit has an abscess?

As soon as an abscess is suspected by the owner, the rabbit should be immediately taken to the vets. The affected area is washed or flushed out and cleaned so that there is no longer any pus or other dead materials. Surgical removal by a vet of a small abscess is usually part of the treatment plan. Antibiotics are also included in order to treat any bacterial infections although, because many antibiotics are not suitable for rabbits, the vet may need to identify which bacteria may have caused the abscess.  Additional support is administered with fluids as well as the appropriate nutrition.

In cases of more serious abscesses, such as deep, tooth or large abscesses treatment includes pain relief. The rabbit will be sedated during treatment. Female rabbits (does) with abscesses on the uterus are often neutered in order to be treated. This should be done by a veterinarian. 

Home Care for Abscesses in Rabbits after Treatment

Where surgical removal has not been possible, whether the reasons are medical or economic, flushing is often advised twice daily until full recovery. The rabbit should be isolated and kept in a clean and dry environment. The rabbit should be kept stress free as anxiety can prolong recovery time.

The abscess should be monitored to ensure it does not increase in severity. Regular cleaning until full recovery is a necessity in order to prevent re-infection as abscesses often reoccur in rabbits, more so than in other mammals. Faeces and urine should also be monitored for any abnormalities as well as the rabbit’s weight. If the rabbit’s health deteriorates or does not improve quickly enough then the vet should be called for advice and possibly further treatment.

How do I prevent my rabbit from getting abscesses?

As is true to prevent most infections, high levels of hygiene should be maintained to prevent abscesses from forming. The rabbit should be kept in dry and well ventilated areas. Wounds should be cleaned as soon as they are seen and the rabbit should be checked daily for injuries. The whole of the rabbit’s body should be well kept and cleaned.

It is essential that flies are kept away from the rabbit as they are high sources of infection in many animals. The rabbit should be prevented from having any access to sharp objects which could lodge themselves into the animal. Obesity should be reduced.

Can my rabbit die from an abscess?

Rabbits with abscesses that are left untreated can die following infection. If the infection enters the bloodstream, which is called septicaemia, then it can also prove to be fatal.  If caught in time and treated, then the prognosis can be very good.


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