In guinea pigs, bumblefoot is most often caused by wet or abrasive bedding, such as wire floored cages, scratchy carpets, wet hay, or wet blankets. Bumblefoot is an extremely painful infection of an animal’s footpad.[toc]
Bumblefoot. It’s a word that strikes dread into the hearts of experienced guinea pig owners and confuses those caring for their first piggies.
At best, it’s a painful inflammation of the foot that takes months to heal. At worst, it is fatal. An infection of bacteria, usually of the Staphylococcus variety, bumblefoot starts with foot irritation, redness, pain, and swelling. It can develop into scabs, abscesses, and finally, an infection of the bone and the bloodstream.
With prevention and prompt care, it can be avoided. If not avoided, it can be treated relatively quickly and with as little risk or discomfort to the guinea pig as possible. However, the guinea pig’s options will quickly run out if it is ignored.
Bumblefoot Disease Process
Bumblefoot starts from a minor irritation in the foot. This could be a wire-bottom cage, wet bedding, even a scratchy carpet or hard floor.
It’s easy for guinea pigs’ feet to get irritated since they have no fat pads on the bottoms of the feet. The guinea pig irritates their foot, keeps walking on that foot, and the irritated area soon becomes swollen and red. This is an ideal time to take the piggie to the vet, as soon as those first signs of inflammation show up.
From there, if the infection is not treated, it will progress to ulceration and scabs, then abscesses and painful inflammation of the tendons inside the foot called tendonitis.
There will be a noticeable change in the guinea pig’s gait, level of activity, and attitude. They will most likely hide away, avoid activity, shiver, or lash out at their cage mates. This is the last chance for a good outcome, and taking the piggie to the vet is absolutely necessary at this point.
From here, the bone will get infected, and the infection will spread to the bloodstream if left too long. If the infection gets this bad, the only options are amputation of the leg, and death.
Keeping in mind that guinea pigs have a higher rate of anesthesia complications than most pets, it is imperative to bring guinea pigs with bumblefoot to the vet as soon as possible.
Prevention – The Environment
The easiest and most crucial way to prevent bumblefoot is to set your guinea pig’s environment up for success.
Guinea pigs need large enclosures. The Humane Society of the United States recommends 10.5 square feet (30” x 50”) for two guinea pigs, but bigger is better when it comes to bumblefoot prevention and happy piggies.
A larger enclosure allows for more dry area and less risk of guinea pigs standing or walking on wet bedding. It also promotes exercise, which keeps weight down and further reduces the risk of bumblefoot.
Dry, clean, soft bedding is extremely important for healthy guinea pig feet, along with overall health.
Paper bedding is popular and can vary in quality. Look for a kind with little dust to avoid respiratory problems and cleaning hassles.
Some owners also use fleece bedding. A few layers of fleece over a puppy pad creates an absorbent, reusable bedding surface that does not contribute to bumblefoot but will need to be washed more frequently than loose material needs to be scooped.
Aspen bedding is also used, though it is expensive and less absorbent than paper or fleece. Keeping the cage clean is absolutely necessary. Remove soiled or wet bedding every day, and deep-clean the habitat weekly.
Prevention – The Guinea Pigs
There are ways to set the guinea pigs themselves up for success as well. Obesity is a contributor to bumblefoot, so guinea pigs should be fed plenty of hay, about 1 cup of fresh veggies per day, and about a quarter cup of nutritionally balanced pellets daily.
Weigh the guinea pigs weekly, and use that opportunity to check their feet as well. Guinea pigs also need exercise. Rearranging and adding new toys to a large enclosure is a good way to get them up and moving. A playpen outside is a wonderful way to stimulate their bodies and minds.
The easiest way to keep guinea pigs healthy is possibly the most fun. Play with them! Roll a ball to them, have them chase a cat toy, or lure them up the stairs.
Guinea pigs need about an hour out of the cage, interacting with their humans, and exercise time is a great time to make that happen.
Trim guinea pigs’ nails about once a month. An exotic vet can teach owners how to do this correctly, or even take over nail trimming duty if it’s too difficult for the owner. Nails should be trimmed to just above the quick, giving them plenty of time to grow back out and avoiding a scenario where the nail grows back into the footbed.
Lastly, watch out for hairless feet. These can be caused by allergies, a skin disease called mange, walking on rough surfaces, or urine scalding, which is when urine lands on the skin of the feet.
Sometimes it’s hard to determine the cause of the hairless feet, so a trip to the local exotic vet is usually a good idea when hair loss on the feet is noticed.
Treat Bumblefoot ASAP
Bumblefoot can be awful and heartbreaking. The infection starts as a slight irritation on the bottom of the foot and grows and spreads to the bone if left untreated for too long.
However, it can be easily prevented. A big enclosure with soft bedding is a great start. A slim and healthy piggie with short nails also does wonders in terms of prevention. Check guinea pigs’ feet at their weekly weigh-in, and take them to the vet at the first sign of foot irritation to avoid a painful, expensive, and potentially deadly problem.
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