Rabbits in the wild live in cozy burrows dug in soft earth, they lounge during the day in grassy fields or forest floors covered in leaves. This is the life that rabbit feet were designed for. Their claws were meant to dig into the ground to provide the traction to help them run, hop & dig. It can be hard to provide those conditions for pet rabbits. The unnatural cage flooring can cause a potentially serious condition known as “sore hocks”.
The medical term for sore hocks is ulcerative pododermatitis. If you keep chickens or ducks, you will recognize this term by its more common name in the poultry world, bumblefoot. The same bacterial infection & inflammation that can affect your bird’s feet, can also affect your rabbit friends. Similar to bumblefoot in poultry, sore hocks in rabbits, if left untreated, can cause a potentially fatal staph infection.
Causes of sore hocks
Ideally, rabbits would be allowed to spend a good portion of their day on natural dirt & grass surfaces. This can pose a problem for many rabbit keepers. Sitting on hard surfaces for an extended time (like wood or tile) can cause the front paws to shift the rabbit’s weight to the back feet, causing pressure sores. Wire flooring is flexible, but doesn’t provide enough support (especially for large breeds). This can cause pinching and cause the foot to bow unnaturally. Metal wire is also harsh and could cut their thin skin. Carpeting is soft but can cause rug burn like abrasions (but is better than all metal wire flooring). Slick plastic cage flooring provides nowhere for rabbits to dig their claws in as they move.
Not enough exercise
The heavier the rabbit, the more pressure that is put on their hocks. An overweight rabbit will have to alter her posture which adds additional pressure points. Rabbits that don’t get enough exercise usually spend too much time in their cage, where the flooring could be an additional problem, compounding the issues.
Not enough fur on their feet
Sometimes this is breed-related (Rex rabbits typically have very fine feet fur and are prone to sore hocks). This can also be from over-grooming, parasites, or allergies.
When a rabbit’s nails are too long, it changes the way they bear weight. In severe cases, the nails could grow too long and scratch their thin foot pads or even permanently twist their toes.
If your rabbit can not fully stretch out on their side and relax, their cage is too small. Rabbits will generally spend a large portion of their day sprawled out like this. If they can’t stretch out, they will have to spend more time sitting upright, putting pressure on their hocks.
Sometimes just because
Sore hocks are extremely common! If your rabbit gets it, it does not mean you are a bad rabbit keeper or that your bunny is living in filth. Sometimes they just get a cut on their foot and spend too much time in a litter box. Sometimes they are just genetically predisposed to getting it. Some rabbits will get it from excessive foot thumping. Don’t beat yourself up!
Sore hock signs to look for
Loss of appetite & slow movements
Sore hocks can be very painful. Your rabbit will likely not want to move around much in order to stay off her feet as much as possible and will have little interest in food.
Bald patches on the bottoms of feet (most often back feet)
Rabbit feet should be covered in fur, the fur helps cushion & protect their delicate foot pads. Bald patches can occur from the rabbit pulling their fur or friction from rubbing against their cage. Bare spots should be closely monitored until the fur grows back.
Red, inflamed patches on feet
This is the next step if the patches remain bare. Without the cushioning of fur, abrasive surfaces like wire or carpet can inflame the skin.
Raw, ulcerated sores on feet, possibly with abscess or bleeding
This is the most dangerous situation and requires immediate intervention. Sores that are weeping or oozing pus generally indicate a bacterial infection. Left untreated, the infection can travel deep into the tissue, joint fluid, bone, or tendons. If it enters the bloodstream it could be deadly. Other possible complications could include permanent damage to the limb or the need for amputation.
*I am not a veterinarian, if at all possible always consult your vet when faced with an injured animal*
Sore hocks is the easiest to treat if you catch it early. When the hocks are simply missing some fur or they have small red patches, you should immediately make changes to make the rabbit as comfortable as possible. Add a thick layer of straw or bedding to all parts of her cage, and change it regularly. Change the litter box and sweep up feces a couple of times a day to minimize infection risks.
Make sure your rabbit has adequate room to stretch out and get off her hocks so they can heal on their own. Trim her nails & keep up with grooming so all the bunny has to focus on is healing. You can add some probiotics to his water and make sure he has plenty of fresh greens.
If the hocks have open or raw sores on them, more intense treatment will be needed. All of the above measures should be taken to keep your rabbit comfortable. If the sore is deep, I would recommend getting professional treatment from your vet.
The vet will clean the wound, show you how to change the dressings, and can provide you with antibiotics, antiseptic cream, & pain relief. X-rays or ultrasounds could be used to see how deep the abscess is or how far the infection has spread, which can make treatment more effective. Your rabbit is likely in a good deal of pain, and most rabbits do not like you touching their feet even on a good day. This can make treating the rabbit by yourself tricky. If you don’t feel like you can properly clean & wrap the hocks, definitely seek out a veterinarian.
If the sore does not seem too deep and you feel comfortable tackling it yourself, you will need some supplies.
- latex gloves – always wear gloves when cleaning the wound. Staph infections can be contagious!
- Vetericyn – for cleaning the wound
- antibiotic ointment like Neosporin – get one WITHOUT pain relief (the pain med dose is for humans not bunnies!)
- sterile, nonstick gauze pads & Vetrap bandages
- towel & paper towels
Wrap your rabbit securely (but not too tight) in the towel, with the affected foot free. This will hopefully keep her calm and still while you clean the wound. Talk to her softly and maybe have an assistant hold your rabbit and offer her treats.
Put your gloves on and spray the area with Vetericyn, blotting carefully with paper towels. If your rabbit will tolerate it, you can soak her foot in Vetericyn for 2-3 minutes. Thoroughly dry the foot and apply antibiotic ointment to the sore. Put the gauze pad on the sore and carefully wrap the foot with the bandage.
Bandaging the foot can be really tricky. Be sure to leave the toes free, and do not wrap too tightly or you could restrict blood flow to the foot. She should still be able to move & bend her leg as normal. Your rabbit will also likely REALLY hate having his foot bandaged, so be prepared to rewrap often. Even if he leaves the bandages alone, you will want to unwrap it, clean the wound, and apply fresh ointment & pads daily. You will want to keep this up until the sore has healed and the area is no longer red. The fur may never grow back in this area, unfortunately putting the bunny at risk for developing sore hocks again in the future.
Stress, pain, and antibiotics are all things that can cause GI problems in rabbits – click here to read about GI Stasis in rabbits so you can look out for the signs.
Ben Franklin said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, wise advice for most areas of life, sore hocks included. There are plenty of things you can do to minimize your rabbit’s risk of developing sore hocks, all of them much easier than dealing with a grumpy bunny who is in pain, and changing bandages.
A healthy rabbit who takes in adequate vitamins daily is less likely to be sidelined by sore hocks. Her body will be better equipped to deal with the infection, making treatment & recovery go smoother. This includes quality feed pellets, plenty of natural hay, and a wide selection of fresh greens.
Dry cage & run
This can be especially important in humid areas, you want to keep your rabbit’s environment as dry as possible. Constantly standing on a damp floor (from water spillage, urine, or condensation) softens the pads on your rabbit’s feet. This is a breeding ground for skin problems & bacteria growth.
If at all possible, allow your rabbits access to natural dirt flooring on a daily basis. Provide a thick layer of soft bedding like straw or hay where the rabbit can rest from standing on hard solid flooring or wire mesh.
Room to stretch
Rabbits love to relax! They should spend a good portion of the day sprawled out on their side. If their cage is not big enough for them to do that, upgrade to a bigger one. If they can’t lie down, they will spend too much time upright, putting pressure on their feet.
Keep it clean
Urine-soaked bedding or litter is very irritating to the skin. If your rabbit likes to hang out in her litter box, you will want to be sure to dump it often. At least twice a month, you should completely empty the cage and wipe everything down with a vinegar spray (click here to check out this one I make for cleaning up my chickens & rabbits).
Trim your bunny’s nails
When the nails get too long, it can cause them to stand in an awkward way, putting pressure on strange parts of their feet. Super untrimmed nails can also grow so long they scratch the foot pads.
Get that bunny out of her cage daily for exercise. An overweight rabbit is much more likely to develop sore hocks because her feet weren’t designed to carry the extra weight.
Can you please tell me ..my bunny. His sore were bleeding many days ago..but they are not bleeding now as I applied anti infectious .
So now he is in pain and there are no vet near me ..I cant take to vet
So kindly provide me some medication that are available in India ..
To not really heal them but to prevent them from growing..plz help me ?
Hi Soumya, I am so sorry for you & your bunny! When the hocks are bleeding it is quite bad, it sounds like you found some type of medication to put on them though to kill the infection? If no vet is nearby, the best you can do is continue to apply the anti-infection medication. I am not sure what is available in India, but you can apply anti bacterial ointment like Neosporin to rabbits. If that brand isn’t available there, you should be able to find something similar at your local store (usually in with the bandages and first aid supplies). It is tempting to get one that has pain relief in it, but don’t. The level of pain medicine in there is meant for humans and would be too much for a rabbit. While you are there also get some sterile gauze pads and a bandage wrap. Apply the ointment to your bun’s feet, cover it with the pad and wrap the wrap around her foot to keep it in place. Change it daily and don’t wrap it too tight. If you can possibly find a wrap that sticks to itself but not to fur/skin that is ideal (Vetrap is one brand). If you have a well stocked pet store near you, you might be able to find animal wraps, or possibly even rabbit safe first aid medications and that would be great. When you are cleaning up your rabbit’s wounds, make sure to wear gloves yourself or wash your hands very very well before and after and disinfect your sink & work surfaces afterwards. If it’s progressed to a staph infection, that can be contagious to you. It’s hard to see them in pain, I hope she is feeling better soon!
Hi! My bunny has sore hocks on the ending part of her nails, and one on the bottom of her paw. I just noticed this and it isn’t as bad, it’s red and there’s some fur missing, the vets are closed because of the pandemic. I don’t know what to do, any possible way I can treat them at home, or any product I can buy to treat it? And if so which is the best product and how do I use it? Thank you
A vet visit is best, but if you can’t get to one, I would suggest you follow the instructions for treatment in the article. First make sure she has comfortable bedding and flooring, either with a thick layer of straw or cozy bedding. Change the litter/straw/litter box often (at least daily, but a couple times a day is better). Walking on urine/feces with the raw feet can lead to infection. Then follow the instruction for cleaning the wound with Vetricyn, putting on antibiotic ointment, and wrapping with gauze pads & Vetrap. You can find links for purchasing these above.
I’ve been dealing with my boys pododermatitis since April. On and off. 🙁
Next step is bandaging. Willing to try a thing. We have even been going weekly for laser treatments at the vet. Can you help me understand better how the probiotics will help? Also You mentioned vitamins? These have never be talked about from my vet. Do you have a link for the vitamins?
Hi Melissa, I am sorry your little guys (and you!) are having to go through that, but it sounds like you are in excellent hands with your vet. The purpose of probiotics is to ensure healthy digestive functions during treatment & recovery. A rabbit’s digestive system is very delicate, and a blockage or slow down can compound and end up with a fatal case of GI stasis (you can read more about this here: https://thecapecoop.com/gi-stasis-what-every-rabbit-owner-needs-to-know/). Stress and pain can be two triggers for digestive upsets, which when dealing with sore hocks could be likely. Probiotics (or prebiotics) aren’t going to cure your boy’s foot issues, it will just help support a healthy gut environment to ward off other potential problems. The microbiome in rabbits is different than in humans or cats & dogs, so you should look for probiotics specifically designed for rabbits. You can ask your vet for suggestions, but here is a link to some (https://www.chewy.com/equa-holistics-healthygut-probiotics/dp/226412?utm_source=google-product&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=f&utm_content=Equa%20Holistics&utm_term=&gclid=CjwKCAjw1ej5BRBhEiwAfHyh1JDqrg_QqNPPm5GA8q1c6TVh6BdqKi8sjxw5M9W7MBjDN_gnVq-kthoCJx8QAvD_BwE)
The same would go for the vitamins. Giving your rabbit vitamins during treatment & recovery would just help ensure that his body is functioning at top performance, it is especially important if your guys are not eating properly because they aren’t wanting to put weight on their feet. With all his daily vitamins and a supported immune system it could help him heal that much faster. Again I’m sure your vet could give you some recommendations, but here is a link for some bunny vitamin treats: https://www.chewy.com/oxbow-natural-science-multi-vitamin/dp/123609?utm_source=google-product&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=f&utm_content=Oxbow&utm_term=&gclid=CjwKCAjw1ej5BRBhEiwAfHyh1PKw-zVvgQUOS6NWiJzqVW5DPGlT4vwt3kwgu5DgfkW9hHc2aNRXRhoC4DAQAvD_BwE
As stated, I am not a veterinarian, and I always defer to veterinarian advice when possible. So at your next appointment run this by your vet and see if he thinks this could help benefit your bunnies as they recover.
Hi so my rabbit cinder(Mini rex) has sore hocks and usually it’s not as widespread on her feet as it is today. It doesn’t seem to be hurting her and her appetite has not changed. She also lives part time outside on the grass with a little bit of chicken wire on top(she digs). It is a reddish pink sore that almost looks like its scabbing over in some places. I have been told in the past to put polysporin on them but is there any other cream type thing to put on it? She is my showbunny and I would hate for anything to happen to her.
I usually use Neosporin for animal injuries, and Vetricyn spray. Maybe discuss with your vet if there is any prescription creams that you could use if this is a recurring problem