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The heel of your rabbit’s foot is the hock. Taking a close look at the heels of an adult rabbit, you will usually find a small, bare, pale pink callused area right at the tip of the heel, covered by a fold of fur. The fur provides a cover for normal pressure and activity applied to the hock area. “Sore hocks” or Ulcerative Pododermatitis, are inflamed and painful areas on the heel. This area may weep, bleed or become infected. This is a serious concern, but it can be remedied and your bunny will be happy and pain free.
Direct Causes of Sore Hocks
Sore hocks are not always the result of neglect, even well cared for house rabbits get sore hocks. There are many predisposing factors that cause sore hocks:
- Poor Hygiene
- Damp Bedding
- Long Nails
- Rough or Unsuitable Flooring
- Excessive Thumping
- Certain breeds/fur types (Rex for example)
Flooring is often the culprit. Inadequate or hard flooring can create pressure on hocks, removing fur covering and causing the skin to become raw and even break apart. Abrasive floor, including some rugs or play area surfaces, wear away the fur on the hock resulting in injury. Hutches or cage systems with wire or hard surfaces are injurious to rabbit feet. This type of housing is so problematic. We strongly discourage using outdoor hutches. Obesity creates excessive pressure on the hock and problems are more likely to arise. Chronic immobility due to aging or disease (arthritis etc..) contributes to hock issues especially if the rabbit is housed on abrasive carpeting. Long nails can be the cause as well. In rabbits with long nails the weight falls on the back of the foot resulting in sore hocks.
Helping Sore Hocks
- Keep rabbit’s nails trimmed on a regular basis.
- Inspect the surface where your rabbit spends the most time. Create good quality flooring and make sure it is clear and free of abrasive material. Layers of fleece or soft cotton can provide a good flooring. Soft layers of sheets can also work. Some carpet is abrasive and can cause friction burns and injury, this needs to be modified as suggested.
- Bring your outdoor bunny inside where you can make sure the housing is safe and sanitary. No hutches, please.
- If the rabbit is obese, examine the diet for changes.
Injured hocks can be treated with SSD 1% Cream or A & D Ointment or New-Skin. Check with your veterinarian for their preferred product. If your bunny has a severe hock injury, where the skin is broken and raw or bleeding, please see a vet ASAP. Your bunny may require systemic antibiotics as well as pain medication and a healing topical medication. Your rabbit’s injured hock may also require bandaging.
Check you rabbit’s hocks as part of your home health check. To prevent sore, inflamed or ulcerated hocks, keep your rabbit’s nails trimmed, provide good flooring and feed your rabbit properly to maintain a healthy weight. Sore hocks, a common foot condition in which the sole of a rabbit’s foot becomes raw and inflamed, can be caused by a number of different problems. Here are some common cases of sore hocks as well as the recommended treatment.
Causes of Sore Hocks
Rabbits need soft, preferably malleable flooring that will mimic the natural texture of the earth as much as possible. Wire flooring that doesn’t have sufficient support underneath is not appropriate, as it can cause the foot to bow unnaturally. (Wire flooring with proper support is all right as long as you have a clean litterbox and soft bedding on top of it.) Wood, tile, or linoleum flooring can also be problematic, as it doesn’t allow the foot to bend the way it does when it’s pushing off against earth or grass. Cages with slick plastic bottoms are especially bad for a bunny’s feet and joints. Lack of traction can cause painful problems in the pelvic and pectoral joints, leading to arthritis, and even splay leg. An indoor rabbit needs soft cotton mats with rubber backing to provide enough traction for healthy locomotion.
A rabbit with too much weight on her body will often not be able to stand correctly, and may put unnatural pressure on points of her feet that are not meant to support much weight. This can cause sores.
Arthritis or other skeletal problems
Pain from arthritis in the pelvis or spine–or skeletal pain for any other reason–can cause a rabbit to posture in an unnatural way, resulting in pressure on delicate points of the feet.
Insufficient fur padding on the feet
Any cause of fur loss on the soles of the feet (e.g., mange, friction from improper flooring, contact allergies etc.) will deprive the rabbit of the natural padding she needs to protect her feet. Rabbits have little or no fat padding on the bottoms of their feet; they rely almost exclusively on a thick pad of wool to protect them from impact and friction. (NOTE: Some rabbit breeds, particularly Rex rabbits, have very fine fur that doesn’t hold up well to friction. These breeds seem particularly prone to sore hock problems.) The problem can be painful, and if not treated properly, can progress to very serious conditions such as bone infections. A rabbit with sore hocks should be examined and treated by a good rabbit vet, especially if there are open sores that might need antibiotics or other medical intervention. The following diagrams show how you can safely wrap your rabbit’s feet in special “booties” that will protect the bare areas of her feet to prevent sore hocks, if she is showing signs of fur loss on her soles. IF THERE ARE OPEN SORES ON YOUR RABBIT’S FEET, DO NOT WRAP THEM AS SHOWN BELOW UNTIL YOU HAVE HAD THE SORES EXAMINED AND PROPERLY TREATED BY AN EXPERIENCED RABBIT VETERINARIAN. OPEN SORES MAY NEED TO BE TREATED, AND THE FEET RE-WRAPPED, DAILY. WRAPPING AN OPEN SORE WITHOUT TREATING IT APPROPRIATELY CAN RESULT IN SERIOUS INFECTION. Do not attempt this wrapping procedure without the guidance of a good rabbit vet who can check on the rabbit’s progress and change the wrapping and medication as necessary!
Sore Hocks Treatment
Obtain a generous wad of “spare” rabbit fur from a healthy rabbit who has been shedding. (A fine-toothed flea comb can be useful for allowing you to gently harvest the extra fur.) Roll it between your palms until it forms a soft, spongy, but firm mat of “felt” that’s about 2″ x 2″ x 1″ (deep). Other types of padding are NOT recommended, as they tend to compress into hard mats that may do more harm than good. Please DO NOT TRY THIS until you are able to get some shed rabbit wool! Cotton, gauze, or any other padding just do NOT work as well as The Real Thing.
Cut a strip of VetWrap self-adhesive bandage, about nine inches long and two inches wide. Take this strip and cut it into an “H” shape, as shown in the diagram below. Leave about one inch UNCUT in between the “H” cuts, as shown. This uncut portion will cover the rabbit’s heel.
While one person firmly holds the rabbit belly up, the other should press the felt pad against the sole of the foot, gently folding as much of the rabbit’s own foot fur over the bare spot as possible. Holding the fur in place, position the VetWrap as shown below:
Being careful not to wrap too tightly (you should be able to insert your a tongue depressor between the bandage and the leg, and not have it stick), wind the vet wrap above and below the hock (ankle), as shown. You may have to try this a few times, as the felt pad can be slippery, and the VetWrap hard to handle.
The “almost finished” bootie should look like this:
When the rabbit bends her ankle, the VetWrap on the top of her ankle can bunch together and cause painful pinching. To prevent this, you must carefully excise a small “window” (either diamond or circle-shaped) out of the wrap on top of her ankle, to prevent this! Use blunt-tipped scissors, and be extremely careful to cut away the bandage one layer at a time so you don’t accidentally cut the rabbit!
Be sure to check the foot carefully several times over the next few hours to make sure there’s no swelling or redness. If there is, you’ve wrapped it too tightly! Unwrap it immediately, let the foot “rest” for a while, and then try again. Conversely, if wrapped too loosely, the bandage could spin around or slide up the leg and bunch up against the ankle or knee. Practice and careful observation of what works will lead to a “bootie” with the proper tension.
What are Sore Hocks?
This condition is often characterized by a change in gait, bleeding from the affected skin and change in behavior. This disease can progress rapidly, and without proper treatment can lead to irreversible tendon damage and bone disease. The prognosis for your pet improves drastically with early treatment so it is essential your veterinarian is contacted if you are concerned your pet may be suffering from this disease. Sore hocks in rabbits, is also known as bumblefoot or ulcerative pododermatitis. Despite the name it does not involve the ankle joint, but instead the skin of the hind foot, or in some cases the front paws. This condition is often caused by environmental factors such as build up of urine and dropping buildup and wire floored cages. Sore Hocks Average Cost From 374 quotes ranging from $200 — $1,800 Average Cost $500
Symptoms of Sore Hocks in Rabbits
Often the first symptom owners will notice is their rabbit walking in a peculiar fashion with all their weight on their front feet due to pain, in rare cases where all four feet are affected by the disease the rabbit will tip toe while walking. Other symptoms may vary depending on the severity of the disease. Symptoms may include:
- Localized alopecia
- Bleeding from the skin of the hind foot
- Pressure sores, thickening of the skin and epidermic hyperplasia
- Anorexia due to pain
Causes of Sore Hocks in Rabbits
Domestication is considered a risk factor for this condition due to the increased risk of obesity and pressure on the skin from weight-bearing on cages floored with wire material. Other factors that may predispose rabbits’ from developing this condition are nervousness, hind-end paralysis due to spinal column disease and poor hygiene in cage leading to stomping in urine soaked faces. There appears to be a breed bias for this condition with pododermatitis more commonly affecting larger breeds such as the Rex, Flemish Giant, and Checkered Giant. Top
Diagnosis of Sore Hocks in Rabbits
Your veterinarian will perform a full clinical examination on your pet and discuss his diet, exercise, and history with you. Your veterinarian will likely make a diagnosis based on the clinical presentation of your pet. Grade I — Early stage of the disease with no symptoms Grade II — Mild symptoms shown with intact skin Grade III — Moderate symptoms with ulcers, pain, alopecia and thickening of the skin noted Grade IV — Severe progression of the disease with deep tissue involvement resulting in abscess formation and necrosis Grade V — Severe progression with guarded to poor prognosis, involvement of deep tissues, with risk of tendon damage and bone infection If your veterinarian suspects a secondary infection has taken place, a swab may be taken for diagnostic testing to identify the causative bacteria and a culture and sensitivity test will be performed to indicate the most effective treatment. In severe cases, radiographs may be necessary to rule out bone involvement and tendon damage, during which your pet will require sedation. Top
Treatment of Sore Hocks in Rabbits
Your veterinarian will clip the hair around the feet and gently bathe the wound with disinfectant. Following this, your pet may require a topical antiseptic, there are a range of options that your veterinarian may offer including salicylic acid, medical grade manuka honey, or calendula gels. Other treatment options may include:
- Anti-inflammatories for pain relief
- Dressings, if your veterinarian feels your rabbit will benefit from this, although it is vital that the bandages are kept clean and dry
- Restriction of exercise during the healing time
In some cases, where secondary infection has occurred systemic or topical antibiotics may be needed, the culture and sensitivity tests performed during diagnostics will allow your veterinarian to prescribe the most effective medication. Top Worried about the cost of Sore Hocks treatment? Pet Insurance covers the cost of many common pet health conditions. Prepare for the unexpected by getting a quote from top pet insurance providers.
Recovery of Sore Hocks in Rabbits
Unfortunately, pododermatitis can be difficult to treat and often returns. Although Grade I — III lesions are treatable, treatment can be difficult and cases will often reoccur. If your pet has had a severe case of pododermatitis which affected the deeper tissues, permanent damage of the tendons may have occurred; unfortunately in these cases the chance of full recovery is poor. To give your pet the best chance possible of recovery it Is vital to eliminate or reduce environmental triggers for the condition. Clip the hair around the hocks to prevent urine scalding and infection. In some cases of reduced movement, daily bathing may be necessary for your pet. Provide your rabbit with soft, absorbable bedding and discuss flooring options with your veterinarian to reduce pressure on your pet’s feet. Ensure your rabbit maintains a healthy weight. Extra weight increases load on their feet and may cause pododermatitis. If weight loss is indicated, it is important that this takes place gradually due to the risk of hepatic lipidosis following calorie restriction. Top
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