Sore Hocks in Rabbits

What are sore hocks?

“Sore hocks”, also known as bumble foot, has the medical name ulcerative pododermatitis. This can occur in animals such as rabbits, rats and guinea pigs and is a very painful, and therefore stressful, problem for both the animal and the owner. Rabbits of all ages, breed and gender are able to get sore hocks although larger breeds seem to be more susceptible. Bacterial infections in the affected regions can often result following the rabbit having sore hocks.

The foot of the rabbit becomes infected, usually by bacteria, and the fur around this area falls out to reveal an exposed, inflamed and red patch of skin. The hocks, or the soles of the rabbit’s feet, are the areas affected by this often painful affliction. It is usually found on the back feet because they have a large surface area and so have more contact, and thus exposure, to the ground and other sources of infection. 

What are the causes of sore hocks in rabbits?

Surfaces which lead to skin abrasions on the feet of rabbits, including wire bottomed cages and carpets, are a common cause of sore hocks. This is true irrespective of how active the animal is. In other words, if the animal is very active then skin abrasions are likely to occur here as there will often be friction burns on the feet. On the other hand, if the animal is relatively immobile then constant pressure on these surfaces may also lead to sore hocks.

Increased pressure on the back of the rear foot is another causal factor of sore hocks in rabbits. This is due to the fact that domesticated rabbits are usually kept on hard surfaces where the nails cannot enter comfortably, as they would in soil or on soft ground. Therefore, the weight of the animal is not spread as evenly over the whole of the foot. Obesity or even overgrown nails can also lead to increased pressure here and thus the increased risk of ulcerative pododermatitis.

If the rabbit’s living quarters are in poor condition, that is to say that there are low levels of hygiene, then sore hocks may be a result. This is also true if the environment is moist or damp. Staphylococcus spp. can lead to infections and also sore hocks for rabbits.  The affliction is again more likely if the animal is constantly exposed to faeces and urine.

How do I know if my rabbit has sore hocks?

Owners will know if their rabbits have sore hocks simply by checking the soles of their pet’s feet. If these areas, especially on the hind feet of the animal, have experienced fur loss, the skin is red, and that particular region of the foot is swollen then sore hocks is the likely problem. The pain may lead to a lack of appetite which in turn can lead to many problems in rabbits. A lack of appetite can be observed both by the affected rabbit’s food being left relatively untouched or even by a reduction in the amount of faeces produced.

Open wounds can occur if the rabbit has sore hocks. Ulcers can emerge and form scabs. Therefore, bacterial or fungal infections can result and so pus can leave the affected area. Abscesses can also be a result of ulcerative pododermatitis. If the tendons are moved from their usual location or become inflamed, the rabbit will no longer be able to have use of its leg and may walk in an abnormal manner.  Obesity can occur if the animal is reluctant to move, possible due to a resultant swelling of the joints. The blood or even the rabbit’s bones may become infected. Bone infections can be diagnosed by veterinarians when using X-rays. Ultrasounds may also provide a medical diagnosis.

What do I do if my rabbit has sore hocks?

If owners suspect their rabbits to have sore hocks, they should bring him or her immediately to the vet. This is so that any other possible problems it may have can be eliminated so as not to lead to further suffering for the animal. In addition, any causes leading to the problem of sore hocks can be treated so as to cure the rabbit.

Obese rabbits should be made to lose weight, albeit gradually, as this can cause the disease. This means giving the correct diet and making sure the rabbit has adequate amounts of exercise. The living area should be cleaned, kept dry and well ventilated. Ideally, the rabbit should not be kept on wire bottomed cages as these increase the likelihood or sore hocks and worsen the problem for those already affected. The nails should be clipped and the affected area cleaned.

 In cases of bacterial infection, some types of antibiotics may be administered to the rabbit. Care should always be taken here as some antibiotics can have adverse affects in rabbits. Pain relief is given and in some circumstances the feet may need to be bandaged. Nutritional support can sometimes be required where the results have been a loss of appetite. Dead skin may need to be surgically removed by a vet.

How do I prevent my rabbit from getting sore hocks?

Hygiene is of vital importance when dealing with the prevention of many ailments in rabbits. Hutches and cages with wire bottoms should have smoother and softer surfaces fitted as the floor. This floor should clean and kept dry. Bedding should also be clean and dry. The rabbit’s nails should be trimmed regularly. Obesity should be avoided and so it is important that owners understand how to prevent this. Anything which could cause an abrasion of the skin should be removed. Synthetic carpets can be rough and lead to sore hocks in rabbits so reduced exposure to these surfaces can be important.

Can rabbits die from sore hocks?

Rabbits can die if sore hocks are left untreated. This is because fatal infections can result following the pet having sore hocks. The more severe problems of this disease, such as bone and blood infections, can also prove to be fatal.


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