DISEASE SUMMARY PAGE

Subcutaneous Abscess in Elephants

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Summary Information
Diseases / List of Miscellaneous / Metabolic / Multifactorial Diseases / Disease summary
Alternative Names --
Disease Agents
  • Development of abscesses may be associated with contusions, chafing, wounds, parasitic skin diseases and general debility. (B64.27.w4, B451.10.w10, D301.3w3)
  • A wide variety of bacteria may be isolated from subcutaneous abscesses in elephants. (J324.15.w1)
  • In captured Loxodonta africana - African Elephant in southern Africa, abscesses in elephants are associated with Corynebacterium pyogenes infection. Abscesses develop where the skin has been penetrated by sharp objects such as thorns or capture darts, or following severe bruising form fighting. (B70.B4.w1)

See also:

Further information on Disease Agents has only been incorporated for agents recorded in species for which a full Wildpro "Health and Management" module has been completed (i.e. for which a comprehensive literature review has been undertaken). Only those agents with further information available are linked below:

Infectious Agent(s)
Non-infectious Agent(s) --
Physical Agent(s) --
General Description

In Elephants:

  • The thickness and toughness of the skin contribute to this common condition in elephants and to the tendency of abscesses to spread under the skin to deeper planes, instead of rupturing externally. The abscesses may be undetected for long periods of time, either becoming larger or invading a large area under the skin. (B64.27.w4, B70.B4.w1, B214.3.7.w3, J324.18.w1)
  • In working elephants, abscesses have been reported over the dorsal spine, which spread internally and lead to erosion of the dorsal spinous processes of vertebrae. (B212.w22)
  • A chronic swelling and draining abscess in the lumbar area of an elephant, where the howdah was seated was found to be associated with a necrotic area of the transverse process of the second lumbar vertebra. (J324.15.w2)

Clinical signs:

  • Hot and hard swelling under the skin. (B64.27.w4, B212.w22)
  • The swelling is painful. (B212.22
  • With time, the swelling may become fluctuant. (B64.27.w4, J324.18.w1)
  • Multiple locations have been reported, such as the navel area, knee joint, ventral or caudal to the ear and sternal region. (J324.15.w1, J324.18.w1)
  • In one case an abscess behind the ear presented a fistula from where a purulent discharge was observed. (J324.15.w1)
  • Repeated swelling and discharge, temporarily setting when the elephant was rested. (J324.15.w2)
  • Lameness was observed in a case where the knee was affected. (J324.18.w1)
  • Sloughing skin with abscesses in some areas of the body, such as on the forehead, due to pressure necrosis of the overlying skin when an abscess enlarges over an area with hard rigid underlying structures. (B70.B4.w1)

Descriptions of subcutaneous abscesses are available in Elephants and their Diseases- A Treatise on Elephants - Part IV - Chapter IV - Wounds. Abscess. Serious Abscess. Full text included.

Further Information Elephants are prone to the development of subcutaneous abscesses.

Diagnosis/ Investigations:

  • Clinical signs and physical examination of the swelling. (B64.27.w4)
  • Surgical exploration of the swelling. (B64.27.w4, J324.15.w2)
    • A probe may be useful to explore tracts. (J324.15.w2)
  • Culture and sensitivity of the purulent material. (J324.15.w1, D301.3w3)
  • Note: subcutaneous abscesses may be difficult to detect since they tend to dissect laterally between the skin and the muscle rather than erupting through the thick skin. (P80.1.w1)

Treatment:

  • Incision, exploration and complete drainage of the abscess. (B10.49.w21, B64.27.w4, B70.B4.w1, B450.17.w17, D301.3w3, J12.5.w1, J324.18.w1)
    • In some cases, hot compresses may be useful to bring the abscess to a head before lancing. (B64.27.w4, B214.3.7.w3, B450.17.w17)
  • Flush with an antibiotic and antiseptic solution, such as povidone-iodine and 0.1% potassium permanganate. (B214.3.7.w3, B64.27.w4, J12.5.w1, J324.18.w1)
    • 6% hydrogen peroxide followed by flushing with copious volumes of water or dilute surgical soap solution to remove the thick, tenacious pus. (B70.B4.w1)
  • Apply antibiotic ointment after thorough flushing with antiseptic solution. (J12.5.w1)
  • Debridement is used in some cases. (B450.17.w17)
  • In cases of large abscesses, following drainage and flushing, the cavity may be packed with an antiseptic or antibiotic solution-soaked gauze, which is removed gradually as the abscess resolves. (B10.49.w21, B64.27.w4, B214.3.7.w3)
    • Dirty cloths must not be used to plug the cavity. (J12.5.w1)
  • In cases where infection involves bone necrosis, the necrotic area of bone must be removed. (J324.15.w2)
    • In a case with associated necrosis of a portion of the transverse process of the second lumbar vertebra, the whole length of the draining sinus was opened, the necrotic portion of bone (with a margin of normal bone) was excised using an embryotomy wire, the necrotic tissues along the tract were debrided using scissors, the wound was cleaned using 4% chlorhexidine solution and painted with povidone iodine solution. (J324.15.w2)
      • Post-surgical treatment included eight days of systemic antibiotic treatment (30 mL tetracycline intramuscularly daily), plus repeated cleaning of the wound with chlororhexidine and painting with povidone iodine. (J324.15.w2)
      • The wound healed after three months, the elephant returned to work after four months and the abscess did not reappear within at least the next six months. (J324.15.w2)
  • Systemic antibiotics, based on culture and sensitivity, are recommended in conjunction with local treatment. (B214.3.7.w3, B450.17.w17, J324.15.w1)
    • Systemic antibiotics, streptomycin in combination with penicillin, enrofloxacin in combination with amoxycillin and ceftriaxone sodium (dosages not specified) were used (following opening, draining and flushing) to treat a case of multiple abscesses in an elephant calf. (J324.18.w1)
  • Tetanus antitoxin may be given prophylactically. (B450.17.w17) See: Tetanus (with special reference to Elephants)
  • Note: Successful treatment has been reported in abscesses treated by incision, drainage and flushing on a single occasion with a solution of two parts of nitrofurazone in one part of dimethylsulfoxide. (B64.27.w4, B10.49.w21)

Prevention:

  • Following darting, an intramammary antibiotic preparation can be instilled into the dart wound, and long-acting penicillin given intramuscularly. (B70.B4.w1)
Associated Techniques
Host taxa groups /species Further information on Host species has only been incorporated for species groups for which a full Wildpro "Health and Management" module has been completed (i.e. for which a comprehensive literature review has been undertaken).

(List does not contain all other species groups affected by this disease)

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