Here at Ocean County Veterinary Hospital Group (OCVH) we find that one of the most frustrating problems for rabbit and guinea pig owners is when a seemingly healthy pet develops an abscess – a pocket of infection and pus. Underlying dental disease is the most common reason these abscesses form. An abnormal tooth or malformation of the mouth will frequently lead to abscesses. Rabbit and guinea pig teeth continue to grow throughout the animal’s entire life, so it is important that they always have hay available. Chewing hay helps keep their teeth properly ground down. Unfortunately, genetics also plays a role, so even with a proper diet, acquired dental disease and abscesses are not always preventable.
There are some other ways for abscesses to occur in rabbits and guinea pigs. Trauma is a frequent underlying cause. This can be anything from a fall to a sharp piece of a cage abrading or puncturing the feet or body. And abscesses can occur anywhere in the body if the infection enters the blood stream and lymphatic system. Untreated, these lesions will many times be fatal.
Recently, a little guinea pig named Jack came to visit us at OCVH.. Jack, a 10-month old male, presented for two swellings under his chin. Upon examination, we found that the swellings were actually abscessed lymph nodes. We immediately took him to surgery to lance and drain the infected lesions. He recovered well and was placed on oral antibiotics to help fight the infection. With many guinea pigs and rabbits this relatively minor procedure alone is enough to cure the problem. Unfortunately, recurrence is not uncommon due to the huge load of bacteria in the system and other complicating factors.
Jack did happen to have a recurrence of the swellings about 2 weeks later. This time we needed to perform a more complex procedure to remove Jack’s lymph nodes “en bloc”- which means to completely cut out all of the infected lymph node intact. The surgical sites were packed with a blend of antibiotics and other natural ingredients to promote healing. Jack continued to take antibiotics and his owners were instructed how to flush the areas to keep them clean and promote healing. Jack did very well following this procedure, but unfortunately recurrence is still possible.
Early detection is the key to a successful outcome for these types of cases. By recognizing abscesses early we can remove small pockets of infection before they spread or become more invasive. It gives us the best chance at avoiding recurrence and reducing the pet’s discomfort. For this reason regular visits with your guinea pig and rabbit companions are highly recommended. During the examination, we can get a clear view of your pet’s teeth and oral cavity, as well as palpate for the presence of any abscesses that may be cropping up. We can also trim or file overgrown teeth before they cause pain or abscesses to form.
So remember, lots of hay, careful observation and rapid intervention whenever you suspect a problem.
Thanks for entrusting us with the care of your rabbit and guinea pig family members!