by Debbie Ducommun
Bumblefoot (the medical term is ulcerative/granulomatous pododermatitis) is an infection in the bottom of the heel that usually appears as a round reddish swelling (the bumble) and/or an ulcer that can form a yellowish crusty scab. It sometimes breaks open and bleeds. It often affects both back feet, although one foot is usually worse than the other. Fortunately, bumblefoot usually seems to cause rats little pain or discomfort. Some bleeding now and then is not serious.
Bumblefoot is most common in older, overweight rats who live in wire cages. The infection occurs through continuous pressure and irritation on the foot and is a chronic problem. It may also be associated with the use of pine or cedar shavings. It also seems that some rats may have a genetic predisposition to the problem, as it seems to run in families. Once the infection occurs, it can be very difficult to eliminate. Neither oral nor topical antibiotic treatment is very effective. Below is a case of a long-standing severe ulcerated bumble.
So far, the best treatment I can recommend for bumblefoot is Blu-Kote, a wound medication for horses. Dab it on with a cotton swab once or twice a day, and blow on it until it drys. It stains, so wear old clothes and place the rat on an old towel. It will also sting if the wound is open.
doesn’t help in all cases. You can also try grapefruit seed extract (
I’ve also had a report of good success soaking the foot in an Epsom salts solution. Use water as warm as you can stand, mix ¼ tablespoon of Epsom salts in 1 cup water. Put in a baggie and hold over the foot as long as you can.
Other treatments that have worked in other cases are: a calendula ointment from a health food store; Altabax, an ointment containing 1% retapamulin (a new antimicrobial from mushrooms); Betagen Topical Spray (a combination of gentamicin and a steroid, from Med-Pharmex); and a liquid bandage product.
Treating bumblefoot involves not only treating the sores, but also changing the conditions that led to the problem. Often, changing the rat’s environment will cause mild sores to heal on their own. Most important is to change the type of litter or flooring in the cage. If the rat is in a cage with wire floors, the floors should be removed or covered, or the rat moved to another cage without wire floors. Even if the rat seems to spend little time on the wire floor, it’s still important to eliminate it. Wire floors can be covered with vinyl flooring, Contact paper, carpet, plastic needlepoint canvas or vinyl sink mats.
If there is no wire floor, and the bottom of the cage is covered with litter or bedding, try switching to another type. Eliminate pine or cedar shavings and avoid corn cob litter, which is rough. You might need to experiment with different floor coverings to find what works best. Confining the litter to a litter box instead of covering the whole floor might help. Or, covering the floor with a soft bathmat (without rubber backing) also might help.
If the rat is overweight, she should be put on a diet to reduce the amount of pressure on her feet. First weigh her so you’ll be able to keep track of her progress. You can buy an inexpensive kitchen scale for this. If your rat won’t stay still on the scale, put her inside a small paper or cloth bag first. Be sure to subtract the weight of the bag. First reduce the amount of food you give your rat by one third, and in particular eliminate any extra high fat foods such as peanuts. Often the rat will lose a certain amount of weight and then reach a plateau. If further weight loss is needed, you’ll again have to reduce her rations by one third until the desired weight is reached.
In rare cases, bumblefoot can cause pain, which will cause your rat to be reluctant to move or put weight on the foot. In this case, surgery might be needed. If pus or a bad smell is present, it means that a secondary abscess has formed under the bumble and surgery might be necessary in this case as well. This should be discussed with your veterinarian.
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