Cooper's Bicillin Experience

Cooper is a three and a half year old dwarf rabbit referred to as a "Zwerglöwe" (dwarf lion) by the pet store where we adopted him in Freiburg, Germany. The name refers presumably to the lion-like mane of fur the breeder has succeeded in producing in his stock. Cooper had been relatively healthy in the past, the major health concerns resulting from injuries received after he jumped out of my wife's arms on a trip back from the vet. The fall broke off one of his lower incisors below the gumline and caused an abscess to form in his jaw on the lower right side. This abscess had stabilized and remained a constant size throughout a period of approximately one year and did not pose any
health problems for Cooper, although it seems to have been the main cause of a permanent malocclusion which required him to have his front incisors and molars trimmed at intervals of approximately six and twelve weeks respectively.
In October of 2001, before our planned relocation across the Atlantic to Canada, we took Cooper for a routine veterinary exam. Several weeks prior to this we had noticed a heavy discharge of clear fluid from Cooper's left eye (weepiness). During the exam, the vet noticed some pus formation around Cooper's lower left jaw, diagnosed a tooth infection, and prescribed Baytril. He advised us to give Cooper the Baytril and think of the tooth infection should the inspectors at Canada customs notice anything unusual. He neither connected the weepiness with the tooth infection nor informed us as to how long to continue the Baytril treatment.
After arriving in Canada, we continued the Baytril treatment, which promptly caused a dramatic loss of appetite in Cooper. We began force-feeding him with a slurry of pellets. After about a week, the
weepiness seemed to clear up for several days, at which point we stopped giving him the Baytril. When the weepiness resumed, we brought him to a Canadian vet and rabbit specialist, Dr. Janet Biggar of the Carling Animal Hospital in Ottawa, Canada. Initially, the tooth infection seemed to have cleared up, and Cooper's eye was given a flushing to dislodge any foreign bodies from the tear ducts in his left eye. Approximately a week later, however, we found a large swelling in the bone of his left cheek. The swelling was quite large, about 1 cm in diameter and easily the size of a glass marble. Dr. Biggar performed laser surgery on Cooper in early December and removed the abscess and as much of the infected bone as possible. No positive identification of the bacteria could be made.

One week after the operation, Cooper's wound was again full of pus and the incision had to be opened and drained. The incision was left open in the hopes that exposing the infection site to the air would help slow the growth of the anaerobic bacteria responsible for the formation of the abscess. This was of very limited help, however, and having been advised that the only possibility seemed to be repeated surgery, I began to consider euthanasia as the best option. Although Dr. Biggar assured me that his quality of life was still good enough to continue and consider other treatment options, I was inclined towards sparing him the indignity and the pain. Around this time, from a sheer sense of impotence and despair, I began keeping a log of Cooper's daily condition.

In early December, Dr. Biggar informed us that she had heard of a new treatment for rabbits with abscesses through the internet, and that her information network reported a very high success rate using long-term administrations of bicillin. We agreed that bicillin was Cooper's last chance and decided to try out the treatment beginning December 13, 2001. My wife learned to administer the bicillin injections. Cooper's incision was left open, and each evening we squeezed and drained his incision thoroughly and flushed the area with an iodine solution. Within about 48 hours of beginning the bicillin injections, there was a small but noticeable reduction in the size of the abscess.

During the period of his bicillin treatment, we initially force-fed Cooper with slurry, as the post-operative antibiotic treatment had resulted in a chronic loss of appetite. The bicillin caused little to no appetite loss, and Cooper's appetite improved steadily throughout the period of the treatment. On January 2, 2002, there was virtually no pus or bleeding from the incision, and healthy granulation and the formation of scar tissue was evident. On January 7th, Dr. Biggar noticed during a routine incisor trim that the old swelling on Cooper's right lower jaw (which had resulted from his fall years earlier) was also smaller and flatter than before. On January 10th, Cooper had some molar spurs removed under general anesthesia and a dramatic increase in his appetite was noticed.  By the 14th of January, the pus had completely dried up. By February 19, the old bump on his chin had almost disappeared. By March 31, when we discontinued the bicillin injections, the abscess on his left cheek had completely disappeared except for some bone remodeling, normal under the circumstances.

We resumed the bicillin injections for a period of about 14 days in April because some weepiness was noted in his left eye; I now am inclined to think that this was unnecessary. He had begun to shed his winter coat, and further observation seems to indicate that this mild weepiness was a result of getting loose hair in his eye. The bicillin was again discontinued on April 24. As of June 4, 2002, there has been nothing in the way of a relapse, and it seems reasonable to assume that the infection has been permanently eradicated. Cooper is certainly in the best of health and is as frisky and feisty as a kitten; the symptoms have completely disappeared, and the bicillin seems to have improved his
malocclusion to a slight degree. Except for the malocclusion, he is as healthy as any rabbit his age, is a good weight, and extremely active (most mornings he jumps on our bed, slips under the covers, and pokes us awake at about 15 minute intervals beginning at 5 am).

It is clear to us that the bicillin treatment saved Cooper's life and that he--and we--owe his survival to the person who developed the bicillin protocol.
Richard Sembera, Ph.D.

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