Pet Factsheets

Pyoderma - bacterial skin infection

Skin ulceration
©Glen Cousquer

Pyoderma is a skin condition characterised by moist, painful, irritated skin with bacterial infection. It can occur on many areas of the body, usually as a result of trauma or disease that has caused an area of the skin to break down. Treatment is usually quick and effective with prompt veterinary care.

What is pyoderma?

Pyoderma is an infection of the skin where pus is present. It is usually associated with bacteria colonising an area of the skin that is particularly susceptible, eg a scrape or skin fold. This condition is usually related to moist dermatitis where the skin is wet and fragile leading to a compromised skin barrier where bacteria can invade and cause infection. Pyoderma can be superficial or quite severe.

Commonly affected areas on the rabbit are the face, dewlap (roll of skin under the chin), genital-perianal region and hocks.

What causes pyoderma?

In the rabbit, pyoderma is most commonly caused by bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginsa (if this bacterium is involved then the fur turns a 'blue' colour), Pasteurella multocida and Fusobacterium necrophorum.

Pyoderma is often secondary to another problem that has led to persistent wetness and breakdown of the skin's integrity.

Obesity can commonly cause excess skin folds around a heavy dewlap or perineal folds where urine and faeces can collect and remain in contact with the skin. These folds can harbour a moist environment where bacteria can rapidly grow and cause skin inflammation. Some breeds are predisposed to having large skin folds: French Lops and Giant English Lops, other breeds for their long, dense fur: Dwarf, Miniature Lops and Angora.

Dental disease is another common cause of pyoderma due to persistent moisture under the chin from drooling or faulty drinking.

Urine scalding is another significant cause of pyoderma that occurs due to urine soaking the fur around the external genitalia and resulting in severely inflamed skin. With good health and husbandry, it is not normal for urine to soak the fur so if this occurs, prompt attention is required to prevent a serious skin infection from developing.

Epiphora (constant tearing from the eyes) is another condition which can lead to pyoderma of the facial area. Excess tearing is usually the result of dental disease or an eye injury.

Skin wounds such as traumas, injection-site reactions, insect bites and pressure sores on the feet, are all potential areas where pyoderma can occur.

Immunosuppression and parasite infestation may also make rabbits more susceptible to pyoderma.

How will I know if my rabbit has pyoderma?

If your rabbit has pyoderma, you will see an area of the skin that is usually red, sore, and moist, and there may be hair loss, pustules, ulceration, swelling or bad odour to the skin. The hair around the area may be matted, wet, and have a yellow or brownish colour due to the purulent (pus) discharge. You may also notice your rabbit acting depressed, reluctant to eat or inactive.

How will my vet confirm my rabbit has pyoderma?

Your vet will take a complete history of the problem and perform a thorough examination of your rabbit.

Some diagnostic tests may be performed to identify the organism and to investigate any underlying cause that may also need treatment.

Can my rabbit be treated?

Your vet will usually clip the fur in the affected area to make it easier to clean and keep dry.

A topical antiseptic cream may be prescribed which will usually be applied at least twice a day after cleaning the site. An oral/systemic antibiotic is often required in severe cases. Pain medications may also be helpful since the skin may be very sore.

Any underlying disease will usually also be treated.

Can I prevent pyoderma?

Pyoderma can be prevented by limiting some of the predisposing factors, such as ensuring your rabbit doesn't become overweight, that it is fed a diet high in hay and grass to help prevent dental/faecal problems, that it lives in a clean environment with good sanitation, airflow, minimal excess moisture, and proper drinkers. In general, good management and regular veterinary examinations will prevent the development of the disease.

If you notice any signs of pyoderma, promptly take your rabbit to the vet as the condition will continue to get worse without correct veterinary treatment.

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