An abscess is a cavity containing pus, surrounded by a capsule of thickened inflamed tissue which is the usually result of a bacterial infection. The pus is an accumulation of dead cells as the result of the battle to fight the infection. In rabbits, abscesses can be caused by many different aerobic bacteria (those that require oxygen to survive) including Pasteurella multocida, Streptococcus, Pseudomonas and Staphylococcus and a whole host of anaerobic bacteria (those that do not require oxygen to survive).

Rabbits can form abscesses in nearly any organ of the body as well as in skin, tooth roots and bone. The most common causes of rabbit abscesses are bite wounds that become infected and infections in tooth roots and tear ducts. Most facial abscesses are the result of dental disease. Tear duct abscesses can be the result of an elongated upper incisor tooth root blocking the tear duct. The accumulated fluid is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and an abscess can form easily. Abscesses that form internally can be more difficult to diagnose or manage and include areas such as the uterus, lungs, heart, liver, abdominal fat, intestine and kidneys.

Rabbit abscesses can be difficult to treat. One problem is that the pus found in rabbit abscesses is very thick, about the consistency of toothpaste, and does not drain easily when the abscess is opened. This makes it difficult to thoroughly clean rabbit abscesses. The reason for the thick consistency is that there is an enzyme missing that is present in other animals, such as dogs, cats and humans, that can break the dead cells into a more liquid form. In addition rabbit abscesses often develop finger-like projections or tracts into the surrounding tissue, which are places where new abscesses can form. If these tracts are not removed or cleaned out, the abscess will return.

There are many thoughts on how to treat rabbit abscesses and much depends on the location of the infection, the cause of the infection and the general condition of the pet. It should be stressed, however, that no matter what treatment is chosen, it is vital to provide your pet with a healthy diet, daily exercise and a clean environment to enable the immune system to function at its full capacity. It will often be necessary to perform diagnostic tests to investigate the cause of the abscess and to determine if other disease is present. These tests might include bacterial culture of the wall of the abscess, x-rays to determine the location and extent of the disease and blood tests to determine the response of the immune system and the condition of other organs.

No matter what treatment is selected, rabbit abscesses have a higher probability of returning than abscesses in cats, dogs or humans. This can be due to a number of factors such as difficulty in removing all the abscessed tissue due to location, the inability of antibiotics to penetrate the capsule of the abscess, the presence of draining tracts coming off the abscess, and the possibility that the underlying cause of the abscess was not treated. Most experienced rabbit veterinarians feel complete surgical removal of the abscess along with treatment of the underlying cause gives the rabbit the best chance for a complete cure. Ideally, all abscesses should be cultured for both aerobic and anaerobic bacteria to determine the best choice for antibiotic therapy after surgical removal.

It is not always possible to surgically remove an abscess due to its location, other disease in the pet (making anesthesia or a lengthy surgery dangerous) or restraints on the finances of the caretaker. In these cases the abscess can be opened, cleaned out thoroughly and flushed with an antiseptic solution. This procedure is usually performed under anesthesia, unless the abscess is very small. The wall of the abscess should be cultured for bacteria and an appropriate antibiotic can be selected for oral or indictable use. These wounds must be left open to be flushed at least twice a day for several weeks. If the abscess closes too quickly, it will merely fill with pus again. Abscesses treated in this manner have a high rate of reoccurrence, but it may be possible to provide at least some measure of relief for your pet for a period of time. Please note that using oral or injectable antibiotics as the sole treatment is usually unsuccessful because these drugs cannot adequately penetrate the thick capsule of the abscess to kill the bacteria inside.

Other methods that have been used to deal with rabbit abscesses include injecting the wall of the abscess with antibiotics or other solutions at periodic intervals or packing caustic material or antibiotic beads into the cleaned abscess cavity to kill bacteria.

Most rabbit abscess cases will require oral or injectable antibiotics sometimes for weeks or even months.

Our veterinarians investigate any unusual lumps or masses as soon as possible. The sooner an abscess can be treated, the greater are the chances of a cure. In addition, some lumps are not abscesses at all but rather tumors or cysts and may need immediate removal.

To sum it up, here are the important points about abscesses in rabbit for the communities of Alta Loma, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Ontario, Claremont, Fontana and Inland Empire:

  • Feed your rabbit a healthy diet, provide amply exercise and a clean and safe environment to minimize the formation of abscesses
  • Have all lumps investigated as soon as possible by your veterinarian
  • It is important to determine the cause of an abscess, not to just treat the abscess itself
  • If the cause of an abscess cannot be treated, then there is a high probability that the abscess will return
  • Complete surgical removal of the abscess along with correction of the cause gives the best chance for a complete cure
  • Whatever the treatment choice it is imperative to follow through with requested recheck appointments and diagnostic testing to improve the chances for abscess resolution