Sore hock (also known as ulcerative pododermatitis) is a condition that is quite common amongst rabbits. It is a bacterial infection that brings about discomfort and pain in the feet and legs. If left untreated, it can bring about severe bone disease or damage in the tendons.
Sore hock mostly occurs when rabbits are made to stay in an unconducive and unhygienic environment. It is, therefore, best that if you have a rabbit, you keep its cage clean and tidy at all times to avoid sore hock and other problems that can occur if a rabbits enclosure is filthy.
Signs and symptoms of sore hock
Knowing the signs and symptoms of sore hock is necessary so you can watch out for it and get the proper treatment for your bunny on time. The first thing that may catch your eye as a rabbit owner is a difference in the way your rabbit is walking.
If just one foot is affected, the rabbit would probably shift all of its weight to the unaffected foot, but if both its feet are affected, the rabbit may begin to tiptoe, and its movements will be slow and painful. If possible, it will avoid movement altogether.
Loss of appetite is another thing to look out for as your rabbit will lose interest in eating due to the pain it is going through. The feet would also have bald spots where the fur has pulled off due to friction, and these spots could become inflamed, red and raw since there is no fur there to cushion the feet. These can then get infected, causing ulcerated sores that may ooze pus or bleed.
At this point, immediate medical attention is needed to prevent the infection from spreading and getting into the bones, joint fluid, tissues and tendons. This is necessary as the condition can cause damages to the limbs that cannot be cured, or it could even get into the bloodstream, and this can be fatal.
What causes sore hock?
Sore hock happens due to a variety of factors, and some of them are listed below:
- Obesity: Domesticated rabbits, for the most part, do not have much to do, unlike their counterparts that are out in the wild playing, grazing, grooming, mating and getting a whole lot of exercise done in the process. This lack of activity by domesticated rabbits makes them prone to obesity which is a risk factor for sore hock and other diseases as well. The extra weight the rabbit puts on mounts pressure on its feet, causing loss of fur and inflammation.
- Small cages: A small cage does not give a bunny the room to stand comfortably, stretch out, hop about or relax on its side. The inability to do all these will make the rabbit sit in an upright position all day long, which puts pressure on its hock. The bigger the size of the cage, the less likely it is to be a cause of sore hock for your rabbit as the animal would have enough space to move and hop about properly.
- Insufficient fur on the feet: The hair on the feet of a rabbit is just as much for warmth as it is for protection and padding. When the fur is thin, the rabbit’s feet will be open and exposed to sore hock. The fur loss could be as a result of contact allergies, mesh wire flooring, mange or some other underlying conditions. It could also be related to the breed of the rabbit (for example, breeds such as Rex are known to have thinner fur than other breeds).
- Dirty and unsanitary cages: A rabbit living in a filthy cage will most certainly develop sore hock as sitting or standing in its faeces and urine, or damp litter will cause rawness in its feet. If peradventure, there is a cut or injury, infections could be contracted.
- Long nails: The posture and gait of a rabbit are affected when its nails grow too long. This can cause discomfort for the rabbit and back issues together with sore hock. The long nails could also be torn or get stuck, and it could scratch the footpad of the rabbit in extreme cases.
- Breed of the rabbit: The breed of a rabbit could make it susceptible to sore hock. The Flemish Giant rabbits  are a breed that weighs about 12 – 20 pounds more than other breeds which makes them heavier and puts more weight on their feet. The Rex rabbits though averagely sized, have very thin feet fur leaving them with less protection and padding. These two breeds are prone to sore hock than others.
- Unsuitable flooring: The ideal ground for rabbits to move about on which is grass, leaves, and soft natural dirt is hard to incorporate into cages. Rabbits have sensitive feet for which metal wire mesh, wood, tile, plastic and even carpet or rug are not entirely suited. This could leave the feet open to cuts, burns, contact allergies, pressure sores and sore hock.
Treatment For Sore Hock
It is a lot easier to treat sore hock if it is detected on time. Once you notice that your rabbit’s feet have some bald, red patches, make changes to its lifestyle immediately.
Clean out the cage, the litter box and sweep out droppings to reduce the chances of an infection. Trim the nails of your rabbit and groom it properly. Ensure that there is enough room for the rabbit to relax, stretch out and give the hocks room to heal.
Also, put extra layers of bedding and straw in the cage to make the rabbit more comfortable and change it from time to time. Probiotics can be added to its water to aid the healing process, and fresh greens should be made readily available for it.
Professional help from your veterinarian and serious treatment will be required if the hocks have deep, raw and open sores on them. The vet will clean out the injury; walk you through the process of changing the dressings and caring for the bunny. He may also supply you with pain relievers, antiseptics and antibiotics.
If the sore looks minor and you feel it is something that you can handle, then it is best to get you prepared. You would need towels, gloves, bandages, non-stick gauze pads, vetericyn (to clean the sore), and antibiotic ointment that does not contain pain relief.
Use the towel to gently wrap the rabbit to keep it calm while you are cleaning the injury. With your already gloved hands, spray vetericyn on the affected area and with care, blot using paper towels. If possible, soak the affected foot in vetericyn for few minutes then properly dry it and apply antibiotic ointment.
Place the gauze pad on the sore feet and wrap gently with a bandage. Do not wrap it too tightly so that blood flow will not be restricted. Change the dressing often, clean the wound, apply antibiotic ointment and place new pads until the sore is healed.
There are so many things that you can do to reduce the risk of your rabbit developing sore hock.
- Keep a very clean and hygienic cage: Always dump out your rabbit’s litter, change the urine-soaked bedding, clean out its droppings regularly and sometimes empty out the whole cage and spray with vinegar to disinfect it. Also, make sure your rabbit’s cage is always dry as a damp ground creates room for the growth of bacteria and can bring about infections.
- Get an appropriately sized cage: Make sure your rabbit’s cage is big enough for it to stretch out, relax, hop about, lay down and move freely so it would not be forced to stay upright all the time thereby putting its feet under pressure. Also, ensure there is a free flow of air and proper ventilation in the cage.
- Trim your rabbit’s nails: Regularly cut your rabbit’s nails because when it gets too long, its posture will become affected. This can put a strain on the animal’s feet, and the long nails can scratch its footpads as well.
- Ideal flooring: When constructing a cage for your rabbit, have its comfort in mind. Apart from ensuring that there is enough space, try to provide flooring that is suitable for the rabbit. Provide an extra layer of straw, grass or hay to supplement the hard floor of the cage. Also, give the rabbit access to natural soft dirt sometimes.
- Provide fresh and balanced meals: Provide your rabbit with all the essential foods and nutrients that it needs to be healthy such as fresh greens and quality hay. This makes the body to be able to fight infections and also aids the recovery process.
- Exercise: Let your rabbit out daily so it can get some exercise. This prevents obesity which will mount pressure on the feet leading to sore hock.
Although sore hock is a common occurrence among rabbits, it is nothing to sweat about as it can easily be prevented by following the necessary safety precautions and getting treatment immediately, the symptoms are observed.
- The Flemish Giant [Link]