14 min read

A Rabbit's Tail: Facial Abscesses and Treatment for the Death Sentence

Flash back to 3 weeks ago. We were sitting in the car and I told my husband that Lu better live forever, because I don't know what I'd do without her.

Flash back to 3 years ago. We live in a small apartment and cats and dogs aren't allowed. I have the brilliant idea to adopt a rabbit because they are cute and fluffy. Honestly, that's the reason I got my first rabbit. I saw her picture on the DuPage County Shelter website and I had this feeling. I just knew that I would meet her, she would be perfect, and we would adopt her.

"I'm here to see Freckles," was what I said to the woman at the shelter that afternoon. She led me to the back where there were cages stacked on top of each other. She pointed to one on the bottom near the middle and said that was her and someone would be with me shortly.

I looked inside the cage and saw some ripped newspaper, pieces of pellet-like poop, and a big cardboard box that used to hold soda cans. The box shook just as a young girl spoke over my shoulder. "I'll take her out and you can meet over there," she said, pointing to a small pen in the hallway. The girl opened the cage and shook the box to empty its contents. A small white and brown lop-eared rabbit emerged with the most pissed off look I'd ever seen a rabbit make. To perfect the moment, when the girl reached down again to pick her up, this small ball of fluff let out the most aggressive sounding "RrrrRRH!" sound I'd ever heard. I was smitten.

After a month of hiding under the kitchen table, Freckles, whom we had renamed "Lulu," finally started to pay attention to us. She tolerated our attempts at selfies, and even started licking our noses when we tried to cuddle up to her – but only after a 10 minute face-and-head scratch.

When we adopted Lulu, she was already seven years old. Though I had never had rabbits, I knew what their life spans were - approximately eight years - but I let myself become irrevocably attached to her nonetheless. For the next year she was healthy and happy, despite a former ulcer in her eye that necessitated some cleaning and goop maintenance.

Flash back to 2 years ago. Lulu binkies around the living room. If you've never heard of or seen a rabbit binky, please Google "rabbit binky." She is perfect in every way. She sheds and makes my clothes look messy. She poops outside her litter box, but I'm in love with her. She does a flip in the air and lands and comes back to the kitchen to eat some lettuce, but mostly pellets. We tried to put her on a full green vegetable diet, but she seriously runny-pooped everywhere, every time. You would have done the same thing with the pellets.

Then I noticed a lump on her face. One veterinarian, whom we met with once and only once, said it was a facial abscess, and we could either "pay three thousand dollars or..."

I've never seen my husband cry before, except when we left the clinic and pulled out of the parking lot. I scheduled her euthanasia for later that week.

But it didn't feel right, and our goodbyes didn't feel right. At the time, I thought it was just that Nate and I weren't ready.

For anyone who has a rabbit suffering with an abscess, I want you to know there is hope for all of you. It is by no means a guarantee, but a rabbit abscess is not necessarily the end, and it wasn't for us. A little-known solution for this devastating problem is a medication called Bicillin that we found on the internet. My current veterinarian had never heard of it. He said he would be "tickled" if it worked, but wrote up a prescription for the injection anyway and wished us luck. While we thought it was the end, Lulu seemed to know that it was just the beginning of a fight.

I knew from the moment I met her that she could win.

And she did. Four months later, my veterinarian said he was tickled. Her abscess was gone and the only evidence left was a small ridge on her lower left jaw where the growth had broken her bone and healed over, leaving a "bump of victory" as I thought of it.

Flash back to 3 weeks ago. We were sitting in the car talking about the success of Lu's first abscess, and her second abscess, and how the treatment had given us an extra two years with her. She now had another facial abscess developing where her first one had stopped. But in that time, she was getting into trouble, binkying everywhere, enchanting our new friends, and being perfect the way she had always been. I told my husband that Lu better live forever, because I don't know what I'd do without her.

Two weeks later, on a Friday evening, she fell on her side and began to shake. In that moment, I knew what was happening. I fell to the floor and picked up her shivering body, holding her close to my heart for only a few seconds before I felt her become limp in my arms. I screamed at Nate to call our veterinarian and he looked at me with confusion, frustration, and something I can't describe with any other word than lost. It was past hours, and nobody was there. She was gone.

Lulu was almost ten years old when she left us, and sometimes I wonder if we should have left the last abscess alone and let her – I don't know, let her suffer? Euthanize her? I did what I thought was right. I gave her the medication knowing it was risky. I could have hit a capillary. She could have been allergic to it.

Today, I wonder if my veterinarian was just being kind when he said it was probably the stress on her body that caused the seizure. Was it me? Did I hit something? I struggle with that, and I won't lie about it.

While I struggle with this, I want anyone and everyone who has a rabbit with an abscess to know about this treatment and to consider it. An abscess does not have to be a death sentence. This medication gave us two additional years with our rabbit that we would not have otherwise had, and while part of me knew Lulu could die from the treatment, all of me knew she would die without it.

Flash back to yesterday. I look down at a small brown box with the word "Lulu" engraved on the top. I know it isn't really her, but I cry anyway. I miss her so much. Sometimes I see a t-shirt in the corner of the room, or a clear bottle of laundry detergent on the floor and I think it's her. As time passes, I begin to realize that it's not enough to look back and reflect on how perfect she was. I need to look forward and meet the needs of other rabbits who don't have homes and are in need of care.

Will you join me? A rabbit isn't just a pet, the way a dog or a cat isn't just a pet. They become part of you, and they don't just leave you after their bodies stop working. My Lulu wouldn't have made it as far as she did without this treatment. Maybe the same can be said for the rabbit that we will adopt next. Maybe the same can be said for your present rabbit, or the one you will adopt someday. I wish you all the best, and I want you to know there is hope, always.

Jenn Hartmann In loving memory of Lulu.

The Successful Eradication of Severe Abscesses in Rabbits with Long- Term Administration of Penicillin G Benzathine/Penicillin G Procaine: http://people.umass.edu/~jwmoore/bicillin/bicillin.htm