Bumblefoot (also known as sore hocks or pododermatitis) is a fairly common problem for rabbits and guinea pigs. In this condition the feet, especially around the heel area, become very sore, swollen and inflamed. This causes pain, often results in infection and amputation or euthanasia may even be needed in severe cases. However, with good husbandry and care it can normally be prevented entirely.
What causes bumblefoot?
There are various factors that contribute to the development of bumblefoot in rabbits and guinea pigs. These include:
- Wire floor in cages, hard surfaces and rough bedding – these can all rub on the feet, causing swelling, abrasions and cuts that lead to infection.
- Unsanitary conditions – when the bedding is not changed regularly bacteria build up, increasing the likelihood of wounds becoming infected.
- Obesity – if the rabbit or guinea pig is overweight then greater pressure is put on the feet, increasing the chances of sores developing.
- Overgrown nails – these can grow back around and into the footpad, causing sores and potentially introducing infection.
- Arthritis – this can cause an abnormal gait and uneven weightbearing, putting more pressure through certain feet, which may make the skin sore.
What are the symptoms of bumblefoot?
Remember that as prey species, rabbits and guinea pigs tend to hide signs of illness and pain, as this would lead to them being killed by predators in the wild. It is therefore very important to keep a close eye on your pet, to identify any symptoms early.
Typical signs of bumblefoot in rabbits and guinea pigs include:
- Loss of appetite or reduced appetite (this can lead to a serious gut problem called ileus – please see your vet ASAP if your rabbit has stopped eating)
- Walking abnormally or reluctance to walk
- Feet inflamed, bleeding may occur, discharge may be present
- Thickening of the skin on the feet
Remember that bumblefoot can be very painful for your pet, so if you have any concerns then please speak to your vet.
How is bumblefoot diagnosed?
Your vet will examine your pet’s feet and will diagnose bumblefoot based on their appearance. They can discuss with you the severity of the changes present and therefore the best way to treat the condition. They may suggest taking a swab if infection is present, to test for the type of bacteria present and check their sensitivity to antibiotics. The vet may need to take x-rays if they suspect the bones are also affected.
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The condition can be graded from 1-5 as below:
- Grade 1: early disease, no symptoms
- Grade 2: mild inflammation, skin intact
- Grade 3: moderate inflammation, ulcers/scabs may be present
- Grade 4: severe infection, abscess may be present, discharge
- Grade 5: severe infection that can include the bone and tendons. Changes are often irreversible by this point.
How is bumblefoot treated?
The treatment will depend on the severity and underlying cause of the bumblefoot, but normally involves the following steps:
- Antibiotics if infection is present
- Anti-inflammatory pain relief
- Wound management e.g. bathing, use of topical treatments, bandaging if feasible and warranted
Tackling the underlying cause is of course vital, as the condition will only recur unless this is resolved. So it is recommended that soft clean bedding is used; nails are trimmed; weight is reduced if the pet is overweight.
What is the prognosis on bumblefoot?
Mild cases usually respond well to treatment and husbandry changes. More severe cases can be much more challenging to treat and recurrence may occur. If bone infection is present then the prognosis is typically poor – either amputation or euthanasia usually needs to be considered in these cases.
How can you prevent bumblefoot?
The best way to prevent bumblefoot is through appropriate husbandry:
- Avoid the use of cages with wire floors.
- Ensure that you use soft dry bedding and change this regularly to prevent it from becoming soiled.
- Avoid your pet from becoming overweight by feeding an appropriate diet.
- Trim nails regularly.
Regular check-ups by your vet are important to pick up on any problems early.