Sore legs in rabbits are called pododermatitis in technical language. Most often the soles of the hind legs are affected, but also the palms of the front legs are not spared from pododermatitis.
Postural defects are often listed as the sole cause of sore legs in rabbits.
However, the differential diagnosis of pododermatitis must be carefully examined. Only an accurate diagnosis will allow for proper and effective treatment. Treating rabbits with sore runs is often difficult, therapy takes a lot of time and requires consistency.
Causes of sore legs in rabbits
Numerous factors can be considered as triggers of pododermatitis. In most cases, however, it is not just one cause, but the accumulation of many triggers, harmless on their own, that lead to sore runs. For an effective treatment, it is therefore necessary to find and eliminate both the “primary” and the “secondary” causes.
As with many diseases, pododermatitis has certain breed predispositions. Thus, rabbits of heavy breeds, as well as overweight rabbits of normal breeds, are particularly susceptible to sore legs.
If the rabbit sits on its hind feet, these have to bear an enormous load. If the soles meet an unsuitable surface, pressure sores can develop from which pododermatitis can develop.
Rex rabbits are also predisposed to sore feet due to their uneven coat growth.
It is also observed that sore runs are more common in rabbits kept indoors. It is probably the “one-sided, off-nature” surfaces that lead to susceptibility to sore runs. Hard PVC floors, rusting, pellet bedding without soft over-bedding, and even concrete slabs in the run are factors that can promote pododermatitis.
Likewise, unsanitary rabbit hutches are a birthplace for sore runs, as sticking and soiling of the runs prevents the fur on the soles of the feet from adequately serving as a cushion.
Excessive claw growth can lead to sore legs, as can limb malposition or joint disease such as osteoarthritis.
The protective fur layer under the ball of the sole can no longer fulfill its function due to the unphysiological limb position. The result is permanent irritation of the thin skin of the sole, which ultimately ends in sore heels.
In the same way, injuries to the sole of the foot can also lead to pododermatitis. Foreign bodies that have penetrated the delicate skin of the sole open the door to invaders such as bacteria or fungi.
Not to be forgotten, however, are psychological causes that can lead to sore feet. Rabbits that are exposed to a permanent stress level (poor feeding, little exercise, inappropriate housing, wrong rabbit partners) or a traumatic experience can react with pododermatitis.
On the one hand, the physical triggers are to blame for this circumstance, on the other hand, however, also a generally bad immune situation of stressed rabbits, often paired with a lack of certain vital substances important for the skin health. If these individual causes now also meet each other or are supported by further triggers, sore runs do not stay away for long.
However, all causes have one thing in common: Pododermatitis or sore runs in rabbits do not appear suddenly. Already a while before it comes to a pronounced clinical picture, the first symptoms become visible when looking closely.
Quick action at the first sign of sore legs can usually save the long ear and the rabbit owner even then a lengthy therapy.
Symptoms of pododermatitis
The first signs that point to sore legs in a rabbit do not have to be physical. In other words, if sore runs are developing, it is often not obvious at first glance.
Only when the symptoms are advanced does the rabbit owner notice that something is wrong. The culprit is the dense fur that coats the legs of our long ears and thus also the sole of the foot. By the way, the sole of the foot is not the area between the pads, but the entire piece of leg up to the strongly curved joint!
At first, only a red spot appears, which is only revealed when the hair layer is held aside, so that the skin becomes visible.
If the pododermatitis progresses further, the once only reddened area is exposed and no longer covered by fur. In most cases, small cracks then quickly form in the sore areas, the skin bursts open and crusty, bloody deposits appear. Inflammations are now pre-programmed, because bacteria have as well as fungi by the missing skin barrier easy game.
The once merely sore legs stretch over the entire leg and cause the rabbit immense pain. In addition, there is the risk of abscess formation, which makes the treatment of sore legs even more difficult.
The rabbit reacts to sore runs in the same way as it does to other painful diseases. The long ears often retreat from pain and appear apathetic. Eating becomes a secondary matter, the affected leg is splayed or otherwise relieved, as well as moved as little as possible.
Diagnosis of pododermatitis in rabbits
At first glance, sore runs in rabbits appear to be safely self-diagnosable. Unfortunately, the impression is deceiving in many cases, a rabbit with sore runs should be presented to the veterinarian.
On the one hand, possible causes must be clarified or excluded. This includes, for example, an intolerance reaction to the bedding or another contact allergy.
Microbiological examinations are also considered in the case of inflammatory processes, in order to adjust the therapy to the pathogen.
In severe cases, additional biopsies with possible histopathological examination (tissue examination) and blood tests are necessary to confirm the diagnosis and clarify the extent of the pododermatitis.
The rabbit owner’s help is also needed to find the cause. Without insight into the housing and feeding conditions, the housing environment and socialization of the long-eared patient, a diagnosis is very difficult.
Treatment of sore feet in rabbits
The therapy of pododermatitis is based on the results found in the diagnosis.
Thus, if bacteria are involved, an antibiotic acting appropriately on the diagnosed strain is injected.
If fungi are involved, an effective-specific antifungal agent is used.
Pain medication is in most cases part of the basic therapy for sore paws. Paw dressings with wound-healing ointments or disinfecting solutions ensure that the damaged skin of the sole heals more quickly.
In particularly severe cases, surgical measures are used, for example in the case of the formation of so-called “wild flesh”, abscesses or necrotized (dead) tissue.
Supportive orthomolecular therapy is also beneficial. Here, zinc, biotin and vitamin E preparations are prescribed in therapeutically effective doses to best support the development of an intact skin barrier.
Particularly important in the treatment of sore runs is the elimination of the triggering cause. This includes, in addition to the ideal weight of the long-eared co-inhabitants, a species-appropriate husbandry and feeding with sufficient exercise on soft, natural and preferably changing surfaces.
Stress avoidance by a suitable herd and/or partner composition round the treatment off and form at the same time the foundation-stone for the Vorbeugung.
Prevention of sore runs in rabbits
Optimal housing conditions and the avoidance of stressors, together with a balanced and varied diet for the rabbit, form the best prevention of sore runs.
This is especially true for rabbits, which are predisposed to pododermatosis by their breed. A strong immune system should be strived for in every rabbit!
Particular attention should also be paid to the substrates that are inhabited by rabbits. Areas that are too hard must be provided with cushioning materials through appropriate renovation. Carpets made of polyester quickly lead to hot runs when hobbling and are not part of the species-appropriate environment.
A daily control of the runs should be natural. For this purpose, the fur on the soles must be put aside to make the skin visible.
Immediate intervention (checking the housing conditions!) at the first reddening improves the prognosis and usually prevents progressive skin lesions from occurring in the first place. If the skin is only reddened but otherwise intact, no ointment rubs should be applied. These lead to softening of the skin and thus negatively influence the natural resistance of the skin barrier.
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