Sore hocks is the common name for what happens when a rabbit’s feet are injured or irritated. When the fur on the bottom of a rabbit’s foot no longer protects the foot, the foot will get injured causing bleeding, swelling, and even infection. This painful condition happens most frequently on wire bottom cages. Should you stop using wire bottom cages? No, but as part of being a responsible rabbit keeper, you need to be keeping track of everyone’s feet. Once a rabbit has had sore hocks they are likely to get it again at some point.
Below are some photos of healthy feet. You will notice nice thick fur covering the bottom of the foot. This fur protects the delicate balls of the rabbit's foot. All of the beige fur is on the bottom of the foot, and the black/blue/brown is fur from the top of the fo
How to Prevent Sore Hocks
- Prevention starts with good stock. Choose your rabbit's carefully and only choose individuals with good foot structure and thick fur pads.
- Check your rabbit's feet regularly. Spotting signs early can prevent a lot of problems. We check feet every 2-3 months in rabbits who have never had a problem with sore hocks, and every 2-4 weeks if they have had sore hocks.
- Trim your rabbit's nails regularly.
- Provide a resting mat or other place for your rabbit to get off the wire.
- If you do notice sore hocks or a foot problem starting, treat it as soon as possible to avoid it getting worse and harder to treat.
Treating Sore Hocks
Mild Cases of Sore Hocks
In a mild case of sore hocks, the fur on the bottom of the foot is thin, there may or may not be some bleeding or scabbing, but it is usually smaller than a penny, and not swollen. There should be no rotting/dead smell, and the rabbit should be moving around fine.
For mild sore hocks the best thing you can do is place 1 or more resting mats or other surface where the rabbit can get off of the wire. In summer we use ceramic floor tiles because they have the added benefit of keeping the rabbit cool. A piece of untreated pine wood shelving or a piece of rigid plastic sheeting are other options. The goal is to give the rabbit a place to sit/stand/lay down where the feet won’t be on the wire and won’t be getting irritated. If your rabbit is stubborn and not laying on the mat you put in, put in a couple more. You have to give them a place to stop re-injuring the area throughout the entire time that the foot fur is growing back into a thick pad. This is very important to healing. Rarely will you heal a case of sore hocks without providing adequate resting places for the rabbit.
Medium Cases of Sore Hocks
In a medium case of sore hocks, you will notice a large bloody or scabbed area, think nickle size or bigger. There may be some mild swelling, but the foot should not be deformed. This kind of wound needs bandaging and to be kept clean to avoid infection and becoming a severe case.
For a medium case of sore hocks you will need to work on keeping the feet clean and bandaged in addition to providing the resting place. To start with, trim away the fur near the area so you can fully assess the feet, and decide what is needed. Next the rabbit's feet are rinsed/washed/soaked to remove any dirt. While the rabbit is soaking, set up your work area with a towel, 1-2 washcloths, rubbing alcohol or another disinfectant, antibiotic ointment, gauze, and vet wrap. Go ahead and put the ointment on the gauze now. You'll also want to cut off your length of vet wrap before you get the rabbit out of the soak, and cut a slit 1/3-1/2 of the middle of it (hotdog style). I use Triple Antibiotic Ointment or Neosporin.
Wrap the rabbit in the towel and have someone hold her with her feet up (ideal), or make a spot on the couch/floor with a blanket to cradle her on her back with her feet up. Apply the gauze, and start with the uncut section of vet wrap. Wrap it around the foot loosely, gradually getting tighter. You want it tight enough to hold on, but not so tight that you cut off circulation. The toes can be squished together a bit, but should not be fully touching. They need to still move and flex for the rabbit to walk well. When you get to the slit you cut, start with one side and wrap it up around the ankle, then do the other side. You need to wrap above the ankle so that the total bandage stays on and doesn't pull off, but you still need to allow the ankle to move. Give it a squeeze to secure the bandage to itself and the rabbit is good to go. You will need to change the bandage every 1-3 days until the foot is no longer actively bleeding, the scab is gone, and the area is completely covered with fresh new skin. This can take 1-4 weeks. After the bandages come off, you will need to keep up with the resting place and continue checking on the rabbit’s feet until the fur is fully in and a nice thick foot pad has formed.
Severe Cases of Sore Hocks
What constitutes a severe case? Well for us it’s anytime there’s obvious infection - you’ll notice it by a bad smell, or yellow/green/white pus or crusties. If there’s swelling in addition to the sore hocks, that would also bump a rabbit up into the severe category, as would if there’s more than one spot of active sore per foot. The swelling here will deform the foot. If you know what bumblefoot in chickens looks like, this looks similar. You have the rabbit's normal narrow foot, and then a swollen bulge sticking out over either side of the foot. This would be a severe case.
For a severe case of sore hocks you will need to include injectable or oral antibiotics. We do not use oral antibiotics here, so we use injectable Penicillin G Procaine (aka Pen G). You would start with doing everything for a mild or medium case (resting mats, cleaning, bandaging), and then add antibiotics. There are several places that list the dosage and frequency of antibiotics for rabbits. We use Pen G Procaine because that is what our local feed store sells. You will find it in a cooler, and it should be stored in the refrigerator. Read everything on the bottle and make sure you understand what you are doing. Dosing for Pen G Procaine varies by website, but they all agree that it’s somewhere between 20,000 IU/Kg and 60,000 IU/Kg every 1-2 days. Most places say the 40,000-60,000 IU/Kg. You can give daily, or every other day. I prefer every other day because it’s easier on us and the animals, and uses less supplies. For a step by step visual of how to accurately calculate the dosage for your individual rabbit, see the post on Calculating Pen G Dosages.
The rabbit we are currently treating (worst case I’ve ever seen) is getting:
Day 1 60,000 IU/Kg
Day 2 20,000 IU/Kg (Normally I would skip day 2, but this rabbit has mastitis in addition to sore hocks, so I want her to have some on day 2.)
Day 3 40,000 IU/Kg
Day 5 40,000 IU/Kg
Day 7 40,000 IU/Kg
After Day 7, I will re-evaluate her feet. I will see how they are healing, look for signs of infection again, and either stop antibiotics or give her another dose on day 9. She should be done with her antibiotics by that point. At that point she'll just be getting her feet rinsed and her bandages changed every 2-3 days until the sore hocks resolves enough to be a mild case. This rabbit will have resting mats and regular checks every 3-7 days for months.
This hock has 2 bad spots (see the little one across from the thumb?). There is a large circular bulge that goes over both sides of the foot, and it is oozing yellow/orange.
This hock has some oozing yellow/orange crusties. It is partially healing, but still needs ointment.
This hock is infected. It is a dark red, smells like road kill, and looks very painful. This rabbit must have antibiotics immediately.