Bumblefoot in Rabbits and Rodents

  • by Phyllis O’Beollain

    The proper name for bumblefoot is ulcerative pododermatitis, but bumblefoot is much more fun to say. Bumblefoot! Bumblefoot!

    That is the only fun thing about bumblefoot; it is an extremely painful infection of the footpad. Bumblefoot affects pets such as rabbits, rodents, and cavies, as well as birds of prey, poultry and waterfowl.

    Bumblefoot results from inflammation of the bottom surface of the foot. The term bumblefoot refers to the red lumps and bumps which form on the bottom of the feet. They appear to be callouses but can eventually become quite large and may bleed on and off and scab over.

    The footpad will become swollen and may become crusted and/or bleed. In severe cases the pet will be reluctant to move, depressed and anorectic. If left untreated, pododermatitis can result in osteomyelitis (infection of the bone) and death.

    Pododermatitis typically starts as a wound which becomes infected, usually by staphylococcus aureus, a common environmental bacterium. Abrasions on the feet can often be attributed to wire floors or shelving, or rough bedding.

    Poor sanitation, wet bedding, lack of activity, obesity and poor circulation are factors that predispose the pet to chronic infection; genetic predisposition may be a factor with some pets.

    Examine your pet regularly to catch problems early. At the first sign of a problem, see your veterinarian. The first course of treatment is usually a combination of oral antibiotics and topical cleaning and treatment of the wounds. If the lesions do not respond, surgical intervention may be necessary but this carries significant risks and has a variable success rate. Early detection and treatment yields the best odds for success, but even then this condition may not respond well. If the infection progresses to the bone (osteomyelitis), amputation of the leg may be necessary.

    Bumblefoot can be quite difficult to cure; prevention is best, and focuses on minimizing the risk factors:

    Provide soft, non-abrasive bedding (such as Sof-Sorbent or Kitty’s Crumble) remove soiled bedding as soon as possible and change it regularly in order to keep it clean and dry; standing on urine pooled on solid floors can contribute to the development of pododermatitis.

    Promote optimal weight in your pet by feeding a nutritious, balanced diet, restricting treats and providing ample opportunity for exercise. At your veterinarian’s recommendation, increasing the Vitamin C in your guinea pig’s diet may help. Make sure your pet sees his veterinarian at least annually to detect any underlying problems such as those affecting circulation. Older or frail pets are going to have more problems with circulation, even if at an optimum weight.

    Check your pet’s feet regularly for any abrasions, trauma or early signs of problems. Early detection and treatment of any wounds may prevent full-blown bumblefoot as well as alert you to any problems with your pet’s cage or bedding type.


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