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My Mouth Hurts - Jaw Abscesses in Rabbits
One of the first signs bunny parents will notice when a bunny has a jaw abscess is an area of swelling on the face. In addition, there may be a thick, whitish discharge in or around the mouth and the bunny may be having some difficulty eating or may even have become anorectic. However, it’s interesting to note that when the abscess is first noticed, most affected rabbits are still behaving normally.
Abscesses can occur anywhere else on the bunny’s body but the most commonly location is in and/or around the jaw (the maxilla or mandible). In these cases, underlying dental disease such as overgrown teeth or roots is usually the cause and should be identified and addressed in conjunction with the appropriate surgical and medical management of the abscess itself. Another cause of jaw abscesses is also traumatically acquired wounds (often bites) that quickly develop into abscesses.
To diagnosis the presence of a jaw abscess, your veterinarian will perform a thorough oral exam and also put the bunny under light anesthesia to take x-rays. Various “views” are usually required so that the the roots of all teeth can be seen and evaluated. To further evaluate the bunny’s health, your vet may also require additional clinical workups such as bloodwork, urinalysis and chest radiographs as well as a culture and sensitivity test of the contents of the abscess.
Rabbit abscesses are thought to occur as a result of bacteremia though frequently no source of infection or predisposing cause can be found. Current texts suggest that rabbit abscesses are commonly caused by Pasteurella multocida or Staphylococcus aureus infection. However, a variety of other organisms including Pseudomonas, Proteus, and Bacteroides have been cultured. Other bacteria isolated from rabbit dental abscesses include a mixture of anaerobic gram-negative rods (e.g., Fusobacterium spp.), anaerobic gram-positive non-spore-forming rods (e.g., Actinomyces spp.) and aerobic gram-positive cocci (Streptococcus spp.)
Treatment options vary and your veterinarian will decide which option will work best for your bunny. Options include Open Woundmanagement where the abscess is lanced and cleaned and the wound is left open to drain. This option requires frequent flushing with medicated solutions while the wound heals. Other options could be a complete surgical removal of the abscess or a procedure called Wound Packing where the abscess is opened, cleaned and then packed with antibiotic-infused materials.
The prognosis for facial abscesses in rabbits depends largely on the underlying cause or causes - whether they are arising from the tissues of the teeth or are caused by tooth spurs, bites, or from a foreign body. Your veterinarian will work with you to develop the best treatment plan.
Orlando Diaz-Figueroa, DVM, MS, Dipl. ABVP (Avian Specialty)