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A Pain In The Feet For Guinea Pigs

Inflammation of the feet, known as pododermatitis or bumblefoot, causes pain for guinea pigs and can lead to serious health issues if left untreated.

Leticia Materi, PhD, DVM
Posted: April 14, 2014, 3:35 p.m. EDT

inflamed guinea pig foot
© Courtesy Leticia Materi, PhD, DVM
Check your guinea pig's feet regularly. Red, inflamed feet are painful and subject to infection. This guinea pig also needs to have a nail trim. 

Pododermatitis is a frequently encountered problem of many exotic mammals, especially guinea pigs. Loosely translated, pododermatitis mean "foot skin inflammation,” and it is often referred to as bumblefoot by guinea pig keepers.

The early signs of problems, such as thick red skin, are not often detected by owners. As prey species, guinea pigs are instinctually very reluctant to show signs of illness. Just remember, an animal showing signs of weakness in the wild is quickly spotted and hunted down by predators. Plus, the bottoms of the feet are not an area that many people examine at home. But as the disease progresses, the animals are less able to hide their distress.

Left untreated, the lesions become ulcerated and scabbed. This can quickly lead to infection. As the infection advances, deeper tissues can become affected, such as tendons and bone. The poor little guinea pigs suffer progressively more pain and are reluctant to move. They may go off of their food and become depressed. As the animal shifts his weight from the sore foot, the other feet are at risk for developing lesions due to increased pressure.

The development of pododermatitis has been linked to a number of factors. Guinea pigs housed on hard surfaces (i.e., wire, plastic or concrete), kept in small cages or kept on wet/dirty bedding are more at risk. Obese guinea pigs and those that have a tendency to be "couch potatoes” are also more predisposed to pododermatitis, because larger size and immobility causes more pressure on the feet. Foot sores could actually be due to other medical problems, including arthritis or bladder stones, which cause guinea pigs to become inactive. Insufficient vitamin C in the diet is also a contributing factor.

If you suspect that your pet may be developing pododermatitis, consult a veterinarian right away. Your veterinarian may recommend testing, such as bacterial cultures and radiographs (X-rays), to determine the stage of the disease. Radiographs are critical for determining if bone infection (osteomyelitis) is present. This is necessary in order to determine what kind of treatment is needed for your pet.

Treatment of this terrible disease is aimed at relieving pressure on the affected area and treating any secondary infections. First, the underlying cause must be addressed. Dirty bedding must be changed, obese guinea pigs should lose weight, "couch potatoes” must be encouraged to exercise and nonabrasive, soft, dry bedding must be provided. Sometimes these wounds are best treated with bandages or specialized booties, foot baths, antibiotics and pain control medication. Sometimes surgery is needed to remove infected or dead tissues. Drains, antibiotic impregnated beads or even amputation of the limb may be necessary.

In conclusion, the best medicine for bumblefoot is prevention! Maintain your pet at a healthy weight, encourage him to exercise, and provide bedding that is clean, dry and nonabrasive. Monitor your guinea pig’s feet regularly for early signs of the disease and consult a veterinarian right away if you have any concerns.

Note: This article is meant for educational purposes only and in no way represents any particular individual or case. It is not for diagnostic purposes. If your pet is sick, please take him or her to a veterinarian.

See all of Dr. Materi's blogs, click here>>

Posted: April 14, 2014, 3:35 p.m. EDT


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