Dental (tooth) Abscesses in Rabbits
Abscesses of the oral cavity in rabbits can be a particularly challenging clinical problem. Abscesses can develop as a result of bacterial penetration and colonization of soft tissues via mucosal cuts, punctures or lacerations. These mucosal injuries may be a result of oral trauma from feeds or dental malocclusion. Dental abscesses can be the result of endodontic disease. Dental trauma can result in tooth defects that allow bacterial penetration and colonization of the pulp tissues. Pulpitis may be reversible or irreversible and result in a non-vital (dead) tooth. Dead teeth serve as a nidus of infection. The infection may spread to local bone causing osteomeylitis and possible bone necrosis.
Abscesses in rabbits are caused by multiple bacterial organisms with Pasteurella multocida being very common. Other bacteria include Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Proteus sp and Bacteroides sp. Combinations of organisms may be identified with bacterial clutures.
Abscesses of the head may be secondary to dental disease; food or foreign bodies packed into the gingival sulcus, tooth fracture, tooth root abscess, or foreign body penetration of mucosal tissues. Abscesses occur in rabbits of all ages. They may develop over a long period of time, or very rapidly. The abscess seems to be nonpainful; however, our ability to recognize pain in rabbits is probably not very good. Animals with abscesses may appear unaffected. We do know that the anatomy, physiology and neurology is similar in rabbits to humans. In additin, from our own human experience, dental abscesss may be very painful, then become quiescent and non-painful and return with excruciating pain. Rabbits with dental abscesses will often show excessive salivation and may become completely or partially anorexic.
Pain management is recommended when dental abscesses are diagnosed.
Dental abscess may be suspected by palpation of soft or firm, facial or mandibular enlargements. Survey skull radiographs or dental radiographs help recognize dental abscesses and adjacent bony changes. Abscesses are usually not moveable when bone is involved. Teeth may be mobile when there is extensive bony involvement. Abscesses in rabbits will often be surrounded by a soft tissue fibrous wall. The wall of the abscess is thick and usually contains bacteria. The lesion is caseous with a consistency of cottage cheese. At times there is a thick liquid with a creamy white appearance.
Dr. Kressin believes that a surgical approach is superior to medical management of dental abscesses in rabbits. Non-vital teeth and necrotic bone must be removed. Efforts are made to remove the infected tissue "en-bloc" and to implant antibiotic impregnated beads. The antibiotic of choice should be based on culture and sensitivity of material from within the lesion.
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- Hillyer EV. Dermatologic diseases. In, Hillyer EV and Quesenberry KE. Rabbits, Rodents, and Ferrets. WB Saunders, Philadelphia, pp 212-214, 1997.