February 10, 2022
How to Prevent and Treat Bumblefoot and Foot Spurs in Guinea Pigs
Foot health is not a topic at the forefront of every pet parent’s mind—and given everything else that pet parents must factor in when providing their pets with a happy and healthy life, it’s no surprise This article covers two of the most common foot problems in guinea pigs, as well as methods of care and prevention.
Bumblefoot (also called pododermatitis) is, unfortunately, one of the more common foot issues that veterinarians treat in guinea pigs. Bumblefoot is an infection of a guinea pig’s footpad and is often a result of inappropriate habitat conditions. Even mild cases of bumblefoot can be excruciatingly painful for pets—if you suspect your guinea pig is suffering from bumblefoot, seek the guidance of an exotics veterinarian right away.
A severe and very painful case of bumblefoot in a guinea pig. Quality care and treatment cured this case of bumblefoot! Photo provided by Asheville Guinea Pig Rescue.
- Scrapes, scratches, or any kind of open wound on an animal’s foot pad
- Crusted over or opened scabs
- Limping or decreased/limited mobility
- A reluctance to move around, run, or play
- Weight loss (due to pain or reluctance to walk over to food)
- Swollen, irritated footpads—in the case of guinea pigs with pink foot pads, they will be red rather than a healthy pink
- In more severe cases, the entire foot or limb can be swollen
While bumblefoot is a relatively common condition in guinea pigs, it should not be considered normal or a “fact of life.” It needs be treated with the advice of a veterinary professional. Notice how these two cases of bumblefoot have scabs and swollen, red foot pads. Photos provided by Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue.
Some guinea pigs don’t have pink foot pads! In this case, it’s helpful to look for cuts/wound, scabs, swelling, and dry, crusty foot pads. Photos provided by Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue.
Causes and Prevention
It’s strongly recommended that guinea pigs are never kept in a wire-bottom cage. While wire-bottom cages can make the cleaning process easier for pet parents, the grates of these cages irritate the soft pads of pets’ feet. If a pet is left to live with this kind of cage bottom for long enough, sores and open wounds can develop on their feet, inevitably leading to infection if untreated. This is why removing any wire bottoms on cages, or replacing an enclosure altogether, is one of the most important steps pet parents can take in preventing bumblefoot.
Ensuring your pet has a sanitary living space is also an essential part of bumblefoot prevention. Your pet’s habitat needs to be cleaned at least once a week where substrate is removed and fresh, soft bedding is provided. It’s been thought that wet environments may play a role in the development of bumblefoot—check your pet’s habitat daily for excess moisture and replace any wet bedding with dry bedding as necessary.
Species-appropriate nutrition and plenty of exercise both increase your pet’s ability to fight off infection. Your pet also needs enough daily vitamins and minerals through a healthy uniform food. Guinea pigs in particular need to receive enough vitamin C daily. While guinea pig food has some vitamin C, providing a vet-approved supplement (natural science link) is the best way to provide your pet with consistent vitamin C. Your pet should also have regular access to space outside of their habitat to run and play.
Without addressing the underlying issues that cause infection, it’s possible for bumblefoot to reoccur. If you don’t know what caused the infection, your veterinarian, guinea pig rescues, and even other pet parents can be great resources. By discussing your pet’s habitat conditions with others, you can get to the bottom of what needs to be changed within your pet’s living space.
Bumblefoot must be treated with the advice of a cavy-savvy veterinary professional. These infections often require antibiotics that are specifically selected to target the types of bacteria causing the issue (requesting the infection be cultured will help ensure that the prescribed antibiotic is effective). Pets also need to be treated for pain in order to keep them comfortable, as bumblefoot can be an agonizing condition. After an assessment, your veterinarian can prescribe additional care, such as medicated foot baths, cleaning, and wound wrapping.
If your pet does have bumblefoot, keep in mind that this condition takes time and effort to cure—there is no overnight fix. Your pet will need daily care (sometimes care more than once a day) in order to fully recover.
In some severe cases, bumblefoot can be so severe that it infects the bone, meaning that the affected feet may need to be amputated in order to save the pet’s life. In cases like these, pet parents should understand what recovery steps are necessary for their guinea pig after this type of major surgery. Your pet will likely need their habitat adjusted for accessibility to food, water, and hiding space so they can still live a happy life.
Foot Spurs & Corns
While this doesn’t happen to all guinea pigs, some may develop tough, crusty callouses on their feet. Some pet parents call them spurs, while others call them corns. While this condition doesn’t pose a direct threat to your pet, it’s important to identify when your guinea pig has this condition so they can be regularly cared for.
Spurs may appear to be an issue of the outer layer of skin, but they’re actually attached to the dermis (the tissue below the epidermis). Similar to toenails, spurs can sometimes develop blood flow—which means that you can’t simply pull or scrape them off.
“Spurs” or “corns” can vary in regard to where they can be found on foot pads, and might vary in number from pet to pet. In all cases, however, pets with this condition need to receive proper husbandry to avoid complications like illness or infection from tears or irritation. Photos provided by Asheville Guinea Pig Rescue.
Pet parents usually first notice spurs when they’re holding their pet’s paws in their hands. Smaller spurs can feel like a small bump or protrusion from the foot pad, with slightly dry skin; larger spurs can feel like a tough, cracked, and crusty flap of skin growing out of the pad.
If your pet has long, untrimmed spurs on their front feet, they may try to relieve discomfort by lifting their front feet into the air while their back feet stay firmly planted. This might be confused with (but is different from) popcorning, where all four feet leave the ground for a happy jump or leap.
Causes and Prevention
The cause of spurs is relatively unknown, though some suspect that genetics can play a role in the development of this condition. While there is no known way to prevent spurs, they can be maintained similar to toenails in order to prevent more serious conditions from occurring.
Spurs may be more noticeable in older pets and may increase in number as your pet ages. Spurs can occur on all four feet, but pet parents may find that they’re more common on front feet.
Regularly trimming spurs can ensure that blood flow does not extend far into this tissue. Trimming spurs regularly can also go a long way in preventing tears and open cuts on the footpad, thereby preventing infection.
Trimming doesn’t need to be a huge additional task—it can be done during you pet’s routine nail trim! Nail clippers can be used to trim back the spurs to about ¼ of an inch from the foot pad (remember to treat spurs like you would a toenail with a quick—do not trim them all the way to the pad).
If your pet has spurs, they might also experience scaly, cracked foot pads, especially in cold or dry weather. Rubbing a small amount of organic, cold-pressed coconut oil onto their footpad is a non-toxic option that can help moisturize skin and provide relief to your pet.
As with many other aspects of health, prevention is the best medicine! Many serious health issues can be prevented with proper care and maintenance, and foot problems that can affect your pet’s health are no different.
We’d like to thank Asheville Guinea Pig Rescue and Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue for providing photos of spurs and bumblefoot. Both rescues have many guinea pigs looking for forever homes—and both rescues are a wealth of knowledge for potential fosters and adoptees! We’d like to encourage those who found this article informative to show your support for these two amazing organizations.