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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.