What is it?‘Podo-‘ means feet (or paws!); ‘-dermatitis’ means inflammation of the skin. Pododermatitis, or hock sores, is inflammation or ulceration of the skin on the underneath of the back-feet (often around the ‘heels’). They are a huge welfare issue for our rabbits as they are very painful, difficult to treat and similar to pressure sores in people. Many rabbit owners are not aware of the problem, until they understand and have a look.
Why is it important?
The anatomy of the rabbit’s foot means that as the rabbit pushes away with the hind feet and hops forward, the claws are designed to sink into soft ground (grass/soil in the wild). When the rabbit is on hard ground the claws cannot sink in – this lifts the foot and the weight rocks back onto the hocks.
This increase in pressure can result in painful sores or ulcers and other complications over the bony part at the ‘heel’ of the foot. These sores are very painful, are progressive and can be difficult to cure/treat once they have formed.
A rabbit has very thin skin and doesn’t have soft pads on their feet like a cat or dog, so a good covering of thick fur is relied on for padding and protection.
What’s the risk?
The risk is highest in:
What happens to the rabbit?
The severity of the condition can be graded using the system below:
Sadly, the majority of rabbits have at least a grade I hock sore.
In advanced cases of pododermatitis, one of the overlying tendons (the superficial flexor tendon) can become pushed out of place meaning that the hock drops, the rabbit can no longer walk normally and is forced to permanently bear weight on the hocks.
Pododermatitis/hock sores are a progressive condition, they can be difficult to manage (particularly at higher grades) and as a result can be life-limiting and - tragically - a reason for euthanasia.
How do you know what’s going on?Examine your rabbits - pick them up (one hand under the chest and one supporting the bottom, place their back against your body so that they feel secure) and part the fur over the ‘heel’ of the foot; you may need an assistant to help with this. If hock sores are present you can see pink, red, oozing or scabbing skin.
What can be done?
Once you are aware of an issue, take action - assess your management and housing at home and speak to your vet about medical or surgical treatment of the sores. This depends on the severity/grade of the disease, but can include some or all of the following treatments:
What can I do to protect my pet?
If you see signs of hock sores you must get them checked by a vet immediately to discuss how management can be improved and to assess for any underlying conditions which may be complicating things. They will not judge you, remember your vet team is there to support you and your pet!
Check the following:
Remember that the earlier an issue is picked up, the better the chance of a positive outcome.