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Rabbits/Ear Infection in Rabbit

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Question
I have an 8 yr old non-neutered male mini-lop named Buster. He lives in a barn in a large wire hutch (wire floors but access to a small wooden "house" and a plastic mat to sit on). He is currently the only rabbit I own and has always lived in his own cage. He has been bred once about 5 years ago. He eats timothy hay and an alfalfa pellet I get from a local feed store, it is their own brand. Buster has been on this pellet his entire life and never had any issues. Buster has occasional (once a month) access to grass. And once a week access to roam in a large space.

The reason I am sending this message is to get your opinion on the ear infection he currently has. He has been to a very good bunny vet twice in the last month. I originally took him to the vet because I noticed in his right ear he had a lot of thick, milky white discharge that just kept coming no matter how often I wiped it out (I never went very deep b/c I was afraid of hurting his ear). Also, his ear was warm and sometimes hot to the touch. It didn't seem to bother him much but I figured it was an ear infection.

So I took him to the vet. The vet confirmed that it is an ear infection and gave me an enzymatic solution (ear drops) that was supposed to react with the ear wax to start a process that would kill the bacteria. It didn't work.

So I went back to the vet. He did a quick scan of the discharge and found bacteria and white blood cells. This time he gave me Baytril Otic drops and an oral med. I'm not exactly sure what it is but the receipt calls it TMP/SMZ. It's a pink liquid and Buster gets 1.9ml every 12 hours. He gets 5-10 drops of the baytril every 12 hours. The doc told me to clean out the ear with q-tips, going only as far as I can see, before giving the drops since there was just so much discharge. After the first dose, there was a big improvement. The discharge, which previously seemed to be pouring out of his ear is now only barely visible. It also is now more clear and thinner. Buster has been on these meds for a week now and it has not improved any more. His ear is still warm and sometimes hot but the discharge has stayed the more clear color and thinner. He has one week left on the meds.

The vet said that if these meds don't work he wants to sedate buster and do an ear flush to see where the discharge is coming from and possibly look for an abscess (I don't think he meant surgery, he wasn't very clear about this).

I have a feeling that the meds aren't going to do the job. But I'm assuming that sedating Buster will be very expensive and I don't have a lot of money. I've already spent $200. Are there any other options? What do you think?

Thanks for helping!

Answer
White pus PLUS a warm/hot to the touch ear is an abscess somewhere in the skull or ear that is leaking out through the ear.  It's not a basic ear infection and cant be treated by drops.  
I'm shocked that any vet would prescribe drops for ears draining with pus.  The white blood cells further confirms the abscess which is left untreated or undertreated can enter the bloodstream, cause sepsis and ultimately death.

The rabbit needs 2 things 1) A strong and long dose of antibiotics.  No in the ear treatment will work for this - he needs them orally or injectable.  2) The vet needs to find the abscess and remove the abscess and the capsule it is in.  Treating the abscess without taking out the capsule will allow the abscess to come back.

There's a chance that the vet may find the abscess through flushing the ear, but if its in the inner ear as I suspect, it will require surgery, which will be costly, to remove.  At least $1000 probably more.  Not trying to scare you - just make you aware of what's involved.

I wish I had better news, but not all news is good....  He needs to be started on Baytril or another strong antibiotic ASAP for a minimum of 14 days, and the cause of the abscess (puss draining) needs to be located and removed.

Keep in mind that an abscess is a common symptom of Pasteurella and pasteurella is incurable.  The symptoms can be managed, but the disease itself cant be cured.  If in fact he does have Pasteurella, the symptoms will return over and over throughout the remainder of his life.
Pasteurella is confirmed by a blood test AND nasal swab.  Some vets will suggest one or the other, but since both have a high error rate, both need to be done to confirm it.

The average life for a well cared for bunny is 7-9 years.  Buster has obviously been very well cared for as he is 8 ☺  I understand how frustrating it is when lack of money allows for treatment to not be afforded.  I have had to put animals down in the past when I could not afford expensive veterinary care.

He is close to the end of his life span - which will also make curing him more difficult.  As animals age, their immune system weakens.  I hate to mention it, but euthanasia may be best if you aren't able to cover the costs of the antibiotics and possible surgery.  If you leave it untreated, it will take his life.  Again, not trying to scare you - but to educate you.

There is one other possibility which any good rabbit vet would have checked for immediately, which is 'fly-strike'.  Fly-strike happens when a fly enters the rabbit, lays eggs, and the eggs hatch into maggots and they eat the rabbit from the inside out.  It generally happens in the anus or vulva and is notices by maggots and puss coming from the anus or vagina, but it can happen in the ear and even the nasal opening.  You vet should have cleaned his ear well enough to fully scope it to check for fly maggots; i'm hoping he did.

Remember, life is more about the quality than quantity.  You have give your bunny a long high quality life which is nearing its natural end.  If you do have to make the choice to put him down, please remember that you did the very best you could for him and that putting him down might also be best if his condition is too serious for reasonable treatment. Even if you could afford surgery (if needed), the vet may refuse to do it and suggest euthanasia due to his age.  Older rabbits often do not wake up from anesthesia.

It's a very difficult choice; but I'm sure you'll do the right thing.  Given  the severity of the situation, it's important that action be taken rather quickly.  Perhaps another trip to the vet and a course of strong antibiotics (I'd accept nothing less than baytril) to give you time to think things through.

Please let me know if you have any further questions.

Lisa L.

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Lisa L.

Experience

I was introduced to meat rabbits at the age of 3. Began working with them on my own at the age of 8 and started my own large commercial rabbitry at the age of 20. I'm 46 now and for the past 26 years I have owned a large herd of meat rabbits and have become well known as the turn-to person whenever a problem arrises.

Organizations
Member of the American Rabbit Breeders Association. Member of the Rabbit Industry Council. Member of the Yahoo - Meat Rabbits Group. Member of the American Council of Animal Naturopathy. Administrators of the FaceBook "Rabbit's as meat" group. Owner of Yahoo - Raising Meat Rabbit's for maximum yield group

Publications
Yahoo Meat Rabbits Group. www.rabbitzinger.com American Council of Animal Naturopathy www.raisingrabbits.com FaceBook "Rabbit's as meat" group. Owner of Yahoo - Raising Meat Rabbit's for maximum yield group

Education/Credentials
There is no formal training for raising rabbits; its all hands on. I have had a steady rabbit breeding operation for 24 years and have read every book there is on raising rabbits for meat. Additionally, I am a member of several rabbit groups and associations as listed below.

Awards and Honors
None - there are none in this field.

Past/Present Clients
I have helped countless people over the past several decades. These have been people I knew personally or those referred to me by one of the many rabbit organizations I belong to.

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