Help! My Rabbit Has A Lump

Updated November 28th, 2020

The photo above shows the typical appearance of a lump on a rabbit. Just like this one, most rabbit lumps are found on the head or neck.

There’s only one common cause, and you need to know what it is.

Rabbit Lumps On The Chin Or Cheek

A lump on a rabbit’s chin or cheek is almost always an abscess. Abscesses are collections of pus caused by an infection under the skin. They generally grow rapidly if not treated.

Unlike most species, the pus produced by rabbits is almost solid. Therefore, a rabbit abscess feels hard and round. That’s why it’s often mistaken for a tumour.

What About Rabbit Tumours?

Tumours in rabbits are a lot less common than abscesses, but they do occur. Just like in any species, growths and cancers are more common in older rabbits.

Most rabbit abscesses are found on the head and neck. Therefore, if your rabbit has a lump on the chest, abdomen or legs, it’s more likely to be a tumour. Your vet can instantly tell you which it is by performing a fine needle aspiration of the mass. Sometimes a biopsy is necessary to confirm the diagnosis and plan removal.

Causes Of Rabbit Abscesses

Nearly all rabbit abscesses are caused by bacteria such as Pasteurella normally found in the mouth and throat. These bacteria are able to spread due to other problems such as:

rabbit face abscess lump
  1. Dental disease or overgrown teeth
  2. Ear infections & ear mites
  3. Grass seed injury from hay
  4. Bites from other rabbits

Once an abscess starts, it keeps growing until it is treated. The picture shows an especially large abscess on the face caused by overgrown teeth.

Read more about dental problems in rabbits here.

Treatment Of Rabbit Abscesses

Unlike in other species, just lancing and draining a rabbit’s abscess is not going to be curative, and antibiotics are rarely helpful. To successfully treat these abscesses you need to be able to do two things:

  1. Eliminate the underlying problem
  2. Surgically remove the entire abscess capsule

Therefore, the chances of success depend on the cause of the abscess, where it is and how far it has spread. An abscess from a rabbit bite or grass seed is usually curable as long as the whole lump can be removed intact. By contrast, an abscess from dental disease or an ear infection has a very poor prognosis.

Dental disease in rabbits is a huge issue, but it mostly starts with overgrown teeth due to long-term insufficient hay in the diet. Then the impacted molars get infected. By the time an abscess appears, the infection has usually already spread to the bone in the jaw.

Similarly, ear infections causing abscesses have often also spread to the bone around the middle ear before diagnosis.

Decision Making With Abscesses

Before attempting to remove an abscess, it’s important to fully investigate the chances of success. Abscesses around the head in particular need to have good X-ray or CT studies to show the extent of dental or bone involvement. The picture shows an an abscess (arrowed) on a rabbit’s lower jaw, which could be removed because it did not affect the mandible itself.

Which, in closing, brings me to a hard but unavoidable truth. Not all rabbit abscesses can be successfully treated. It’s important to ask about the chances of success before starting.

There is no point in treating the abscess if you cannot also fix the problem that caused it. In addition, rabbit abscesses are painful, and therefore sometimes it’s better to choose humane euthanasia instead of doing nothing or making things worse with unsuccessful surgery.

However, the main message is to get to your rabbit vet as soon as possible. The chances of success get higher the earlier a lump is checked, whether it be abscess or tumour.

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

Andrew

14 Replies to “Help! My Rabbit Has A Lump”

  1. Last year I found a lump in my rabbit’s right side abdomen. The vet stabbed it with a syringe and tested it, but it wasn’t a inflammation. The size is growing very little and is now the size of a single grape. My rabbit is old. Is it okay to just live without removing this? Or is it a better choice to take risks and surgically eliminate them? I live in South Korea and there aren’t many rabbit veterinarians. I’m very conflicted because he might be able to endure long travel time and surgery.

    1. It’s reasonable to leave a lump if it will not cause any problems in the lifetime of an animal. Of course, that’s a very hard thing to judge but you can get an idea from the speed of growth and its position. You did the right thing by making sure it’s not an infection.

  2. Hello,
    I have a New Zealand rabbit and I just detected a lump underneath the left side of the jaw. I am very concerned and worried. He is about six years very, still eats real good, drinks alot of water, very loveable. I just felt it today for the first time. Any suggestionss anyone. Thanks, Diana

    1. My rabbit also have similar lump in solar position shown on picture and my rabbit is only 3 weeks old so what to do I am worried

      1. Tha main thing to do is get her checked as soon as possible. Small abscesses can often be cured by removal.

    1. Hi Vanessa. The lump itself isn’t contagious, but a bite from an affected rabbit can easily pass on the bacteria that cause abscesses.

  3. I just noticed a pea sized hard lump under the skin of my four month old female rabbit, if I gently press on it can move around under her skin. She doesn’t seem bothered when I touch it but she does groom that area often as if it might bother her. She eats, drinks, plays, sleeps and seems healthy but I’m so scared that it could be life threatening to her and I can’t afford outrageous expensive vet bills… any advice would be greatly appreciated, Thankyou.

    1. The lump really needs to be needled by a vet to find out if it’s an abscess. I’m sure you can find a vet who will do it for not much more than a consultation fee.

  4. I just saw this golf ball sized lump on my rabbits cheek. Trying to read up on it before I call abet tomorrow, any advice. He’s a 4 year old male

  5. My rabbit has a lump under the throat area and now one eye is closing . Rabbit is dwarf variety and eating well. Oaten hay, dry bunny mix, fresh fruit/veg daily. I have read your article . Would you have further advice please.

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