Bumblefoot, or pododermatitis, is a fairly common condition that affects a guinea pig’s feet, especially the heel. At best, it is painful, but if left untreated, it can lead to severe infection and eventually, death. As a responsible piggy parent, you should know the causes and the signs and symptoms and know how best to treat it.
In this article, we are looking at everything related to this painful and often deadly illness, including:
- What causes it.
- What are the signs and symptoms?
- How to treat it?
- How to prevent it?
What Causes Bumblefoot?
Let’s take a look at what causes bumble foot in cavies.
Unlike other animals, cavies don’t have pads on their paws, which means their feet are very delicate. To understand this a bit better, think of times you have had to walk on rough or uncomfortable surfaces without shoes. It is the same for guinea pigs. When forced to walk on wire, tiles and carpeting, it can lead to bumblefoot.
Overweight or obese guinea pigs are more at risk of developing bumblefoot. This is because any activity puts pressure on their footpads, which leads to this painful condition. An overweight cavy housed in a cage with wire on the floor is more prone to developing bumblefoot.
Soiled and dirty bedding can lead to several health problems for guinea pigs, including flystrike and bumblefoot. Both conditions are serious and potentially life-threatening. One way to prevent both is to always use guinea pig-friendly materials when setting up their hutch.
Cavies are very good at keeping themselves clean, but there is some grooming they need help with, especially their nails. A guinea pig’s nails can grow into their foot padding if left untrimmed, resulting in bumblefoot. Regular grooming also gives you the chance to check your cavy’s feet and catch any bacterial infections before they become serious.
Loss of fur
Guinea pigs have fur on their feet for protection. But when that fur is no longer there, they are more prone to injuries.
Loss of fur can be caused by:
- Anxiety or stress
- Urine scald
- Mange mites
- Rough surfaces
How Can I Tell If My Guinea Pig Has Bumblefoot?
Pododermatitis starts as mild irritation and some inflammation and progressing to a severe infection. Identifying the bacterial infection in its early stages is crucial.
Carry on reading to find out the four stages.
Stage 1 – Foot irritation
It is not always easy to recognise bumblefoot in its early stages. However, regular grooming is an excellent way to keep an eye for signs of it.
Initial symptoms include:
- Calluses on the heel that look red and painful
- Hair loss on the heels
- Your guinea pig may be less active because of the pain.
Stage 2 – Inflammation
This stage is easier to spot. Signs that bumblefoot is progressing include:
- Red and painful calluses on the heel
- Peeling or scabbing skin around the infected area
- Your guinea pig will be noticeably less active.
Stage 3 – Infection
Stage 3 is when an infection has set in. Symptoms will be easier to recognise and may include:
- Your guinea pig will be unable to walk and will cry or make small, high-pitched sounds.
- Your guinea pig may stop eating and drinking.
- Large ulcers or blisters can be seen on the feet.
- Discharge from the wound (this may have an odour)
- Scabbing around the infected area
Stage 4 – Bone and tissue infection
This is the last, and most serious stage where the infection has gotten into the tissue and bones.
Stage 4 symptoms include:
- Foul-smelling discharge from the infected area
- Intense pain that may cause your guinea pig to grind its teeth
Can My Guinea Pig Die From Bumblefoot?
Pododermatitis, if detected early, isn’t life-threatening. However, if it is left to progress to stage 3 or 4, treatment becomes more difficult. Often amputation or euthanasia may need to be considered.
How Can I Prevent My Guinea Pigs Getting Bumblefoot?
Even though bumblefoot is a common ailment for guinea pigs, it can be prevented. Take a look at how best to do this.
Make sure the hutch has a smooth surface.
One of the leading causes of bumblefoot is when guinea pigs are forced to walk on hard or rough surfaces. Avoid cages with wire flooring. Instead make sure your guinea pigs are housed in enclosures with smooth floors, such as wood, plastic or coated metal. For extra protection, add a layer of soft bedding to keep your piggies’ feet protected at all times.
Clean the cage regularly
Hygiene is vital when it comes to preventing bumblefoot. Clean the cage out with a pet-friendly disinfectant at least once a week and do a deep clean once a month. Remove soiled or old bedding and replace it as often as necessary.
Get rid of wet bedding
Urine scald is another one of the major culprits of bumblefoot. If your piggies aren’t litter trained, you must regularly remove wet or soiled bedding. Don’t forget to check around the water bottle or bowl as well. Wet bedding can soften their feet and cause cracking.
Trim your guinea pig’s nails
You can prevent bumblefoot by keeping your guinea pig’s nails trimmed. This should be done once a month, but might need to be done more often depending on the nail growth. If you’re not comfortable doing this, ask your vet to assist.
Add more vitamin C to your guinea pig’s diet
A vitamin C deficiency can affect your piggy’s ability to produce collagen, which puts it more at risk of bumblefoot. Ideally, a cavy’s diet should include a minimum of 10mg of vitamin C a day. Foods rich in this essential nutrient include:
- Green peppers
There are also chewable vitamin C supplements available.
Put your piggy on a diet
Overweight or obese cavies are more susceptible to bumblefoot. It is essential that you regularly check your guinea pig’s weight, and put it on a diet if necessary. Simply reducing the number of calories you feed it will shed excess weight.
How Do I Treat Bumblefoot?
Treating bumblefoot isn’t always easy. However, if it is detected early enough, there are a few things you can do at home to get rid of it. Unfortunately, if it gets to the more advanced stages, a vet appointment is crucial.
Treating bumblefoot at home
An effective way to treat bumblefoot is to soak the affected area in a solution of warm water and Epsom salts. You need to supervise your cavy at all times during this process, as the salt can get in its eye. Do this two to three times a day.
After soaking the feet, you should apply an ointment to reduce swelling and prevent any infections. Speak to your vet about betadine as a possible treatment. They will be able to tell you how much needs to be diluted.
If the bumblefoot shows no signs of healing or is getting worse, the next step is visiting the vet.
Getting veterinary treatment
When booking an appointment, make sure the vet has experience with small or exotic animals. During the examination, they will do a complete health check, paying close attention to the feet. They will also clean sores, trim your piggy’s nails and if need be, do lab tests to see how severe the infection is.
The vet will recommend three possible treatment options, including:
- Flushing out the infected areas with an antibiotic solution.
- Injecting antibiotics directly into the infected area.
- Prescribing antibiotics with an anti-inflammatory.
Your vet will also prescribe medication that you can use to treat the bumblefoot at home.
Remember, if left untreated your vet will recommend amputation or euthanasia.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bumblefoot in Guinea Pigs
Bumblefoot is a severe condition in guinea pigs, especially if it isn’t detected and treated early on. In this section, we are looking at the most frequently asked questions about bumblefoot in guinea pigs.
1. What does bumblefoot look like?
In its early stages, bumblefoot can be quite hard to recognise. However, regular grooming will help you spot it as soon as it starts. Initially, you may notice calluses on the feet, around the heel, which may become inflamed and painful over time. As the condition worsens, the infected area will be warm and have a black scabby looking piece of skin on top.
2. Can guinea pigs die from bumblefoot?
Unfortunately yes, guinea pigs can die from bumblefoot if it is left untreated. This is because the infection spreads into the tissue causing permanent swelling. It can also infect the bone, resulting in paralysis. Your vet may recommend amputation, or in very severe cases, euthanising your guinea pig.
3. What causes bumblefoot in guinea pigs?
Bumblefoot can be caused by several things. However, the most common is rough or wire surfaces, dirty hutches, a deficiency in vitamin C, obesity, and overgrown nails. Stress, anxiety and mange mites can also cause the fur to fall out around the feet, leaving them unprotected.
4. Can bumblefoot heal itself?
No, unfortunately, bumblefoot cannot heal itself. Even mild cases need to be treated. To prevent it from recurring, you will need to make changes to your guinea pig’s hutch and bedding, as well as its diet and grooming regime.
5. How do you treat bumblefoot at home?
If it is a mild case of bumblefoot, you can soak your guinea pig’s feet in warm water mixed with Epsom salt. This works by drawing out any infection, softening the skin and healing the wound. It is also a good idea to use an ointment on the infected area. This will prevent further bacterial infections and help with the healing process.
6. When should you take your guinea pig to the vet?
If the bumblefoot is not clearing or you notice it getting worse, you will need to get your guinea pig to the vet as quickly as possible. Depending on how severe the infection is, your vet will flush the wound out with an antibiotic solution, prescribe antibiotics as well as an ointment. If the disease has spread into the tissue, surgery might be necessary to remove the dead tissue.
7. Is bumblefoot contagious?
Thankfully bumblefoot is not contagious from guinea pig to guinea pig. But chances are that if one of your pets has it, others are more prone to it because of their environment. You might want to separate your sick piggy from the rest so it can recover in peace and quiet.
8. What happens if you don’t treat bumblefoot?
Leaving bumblefoot untreated can have dire results. Depending on how far the infection has spread into the bone, your piggy’s foot may need to be amputated. The worst-case scenario, however, is euthanasia.
To keep your piggy safe and protected, you must be able to recognise the early signs of bumblefoot and know how best to treat it. It is also vital that you know how to prevent your guinea pigs from getting it in the first place.
Hopefully, this article has answered all your questions, plus a few more. Please feel free to share this with other guinea pig parents, so they are also equipped to deal with this nasty condition.