Abscesses in rabbits are scary things. Unlike your immune system or that of a cat/dog, rabbit immune systems react very differently to infections, making them difficult to treat. When a rabbit gets an infection, their bodies create a barrier between the infection site & the rest of their bodies. This prevents the infection from spreading to the rest of their body, but also makes it difficult to use medications like antibiotics. When you or I take antibiotics, the medicine makes its way through our body, killing the infection as it goes. Since the rabbit’s body creates a wall around the infection, the antibiotics aren’t able to get that area & treat it. Also, the pus that rabbits form is very different from the liquid kind of pus that humans/dogs/cats produce – rabbit pus literally has the consistency of toothpaste. Gross. This makes it hard to remove all of the pus from the abscess site, because it won’t just drain away. It’s very important to make sure the abscess is completely cleaned out, because if any bit of pus is left behind, a whole new abscess can develop, putting you right back at square one. In fact, even with proper treatment, the recurrence rate of abscesses in rabbit is high. The clincher is that abscesses form really easily in rabbits – literally getting a nice jab from the hay in their litterbox can get one going. See what I mean? Scary.
This past March, I noticed that one side of Jack’s face was very noticeably swollen. In our old apartment, Jack was right next to the couch, so it’s impossible to not see him throughout the day. The lump popped up out of nowhere, literally overnight. I picked him up & felt it, and it was firm to the touch but difficult to see because of all the fur. My mom is a veterinarian, so I snapped some pics & asked what she thought it was. Her practice is a 2 hour drive from where I live, and I spent the entire ride googling abscesses. Not smart. Info on the web can be so depressing! I was looking at pictures of rabbits with multiple abscesses, rabbits with abscesses that were left to burst on their own, rabbits that had antibiotic beads embedded in their bones to combat recurring abscesses… By the time I got to her practice, I was convinced that I’d have to make some hard decisions.
After a quick exam, she confirmed that it was an abscess, and that he’d have to have surgery. After knocking Jack out with anesthesia, she shaved the area, lanced it with a scalpel, and squeezed out the pus (gross). After thoroughly cleaning the now empty pocket with an antiseptic solution, she made a second hole near the top, inserted a piece of rubber tubing & tied the ends. This is known as a drain, which keeps the pocket open while it heals.
Jack was sent home with more antiseptic solution (for twice-daily flushings with a syringe), antibiotic/antiviral ointment (for twice-daily squirts into the pocket), pain meds, and a CONE OF SHAME! He HATED that cone, and I felt so bad for him. When he was neutered I didn’t make him wear one because he left the surgery site alone, but with this I had no choice… He literally had a piece of rubber looped through his face for over a month. I did cut it down so he could eat/drink/lay down more comfortably, and he eventually got used to it. Over time, the skin that the rubber was looped through shriveled up, while the side closest to his jaw healed & became his new cheek. After I removed the drain, the pocket basically became a giant scab & fell off.
Now, the hair has all grown back & he hasn’t had any other abscesses develop! I’m very happy that this is all over & done with – Jack is too =)