Guinea pigs and other domesticated rodents often have a problem where one of their feet becomes infected, inflamed, swollen, and may have open sores. Ulcerative Pododermatitis is the scientific name for this painful condition which left untreated can cause the animal to die.
It is often called bumblefoot because of the swollen “bumbles” that form on the feet. Other symptoms may include limping and increased reclusiveness.
Although it is usually better to have a pet treated by a veterinarian, there are several reasons a guinea pig owner might not take their animal to the vet for this condition. For starters, most animal doctors work best with cats, dogs, or other very common pets. Some vets will not work on guinea pigs or lack the expertise to do so.
In this case it is best to save money and do what you can for your cavy. Money is actually the second reason many people do not seek professional help for a sick rodent. Although much loved, guinea pigs are often the pet of choice because they are much more affordable than a cat or dog. Therefore, people simply might not be able to pay for a vet bill.
Whatever the reason a veterinarian is not an option for your pet, this foot condition should still be treated. The following are instructions for caring for your wounded guinea pig without the help of a health care professional. There is still hope for your pet, so don’t give up.
Bedding And Caging
The most common cause for bumblefoot is soiled or abrasive bedding. This is the main reason that this foot condition is much more prevalent in domesticated cavies than in the wild. Some of the causes of bumblefoot are:
- Laying in dirty bedding
- Use of pine or other wood shaving beddings
- Exposure to sharp surfaces such as rocks or cement
- General inactivity
The first step in treating your cavy is changing the bedding. This means that if you are using an abrasive type such as pine shavings, you should switch to fleece or soft towels. It is best if the change is permanent but if that is not feasible then at least do it until the foot is healed.
Bedding change also means that whatever you end up using must be cleaned or changed at least twice a day until the animal is healed. Laying in feces and urine is likely where the infection originated and can make the situation worse.
If your animal usually has some time outside, consider leaving it caged with soft bedding until it is healed. This will avoid any additional scrapes or cuts while the immune system is weakened. If the guinea pig is prone to getting this infection, you should consider keeping this one as an indoors only pet.
Lazy guinea pigs are more prone to bumblefoot than active ones, however if the animal is kept in a cage where there is not much room to run or walk around then it is the responsibility of the owner to be sure to let them out for exercise every day.
While recovering, it is best to set the cage up so that the guinea pig has multiple options for hiding spots. They feel safe when they are in a covered area such as the plastic igloos or barns available in pet stores.
Once the animal is healed the food, hay and water should be kept farther away from the sleeping area to encourage activity. However, while the guinea pig has a sore foot it is beneficial to keep the food and hay closer to shelter so that the animal feels comfortable while eating.
Guinea Pigs In Herds
If your guinea pig is normally kept as part of a larger group then there are some special considerations. While bumblefoot is not contagious, if the conditions exist for one animal to get it then check the whole herd for signs. Keep in mind that guinea pigs are prey in the wild so they will hide any symptoms of illness and injury as long as possible. This makes it difficult to spot a troubled cavy, but checking their feet frequently will help.
After checking the other pigs, then observe the herd together. If there is any aggressive behavior towards the wounded animal then remove it immediately and provide private quarters until he is recovered. Guinea pigs have a system of dominance and often express it through somewhat aggressive behavior.
The other animals, especially males, may try to exert dominance over the wounded pig while it is under the weather. This can cause further injuries so do not allow this to happen.
In fact, it is usually best to give the hurt guinea pig its own area right from the start, if possible. This will allow you to observe the animal for any additional changes, and will allow you to measure how much food, hay and water it is taking in. It will also provide the best conditions for rest and a clean cage.
Epsom Salt Baths
To reduce swelling and discomfort in the infected foot, bathing in Epsom salts can be very beneficial. There are some special considerations for guinea pigs, of course, but a few weeks of baths can go a long way to helping cure a wounded pig.
First, gather the necessary items including:
- A deep disposable baking pan
- Warm water
- Epsom salts, any brand
- Clean, dry towels
- Your pet’s favorite vegetable treat
- A guinea pig with a sore foot
Make sure the water isn’t too hot, but it should be fairly warm. Put your hand in it to stir the salts around, this will give you an idea of if it is too hot. Place the towel under the pan; you will be glad when the guinea pig tries to escape. When you put the guinea pig in the pan to soak, make sure the affected foot is completely covered in water.
Use a carrot or lettuce to distract your pet while it is soaking so it will stay still long enough. The bath should be at least ten minutes long. Stay with the animal to prevent any grooming actions around the face, as this could cause salt water to get in the eyes. When done soaking, be sure to dry off your pet, especially the hurt foot.
Give your guinea pig this type of bath twice a day every day, along with the other described treatments, until the animal shows no more signs of pain, swelling or infection.
Creams And Ointments
After the bath, it is a good idea to delicately put some antibiotic cream or ointment on the affected area. The same triple antibiotic ointment that is used for humans will be just fine for a guinea pig. This might also be a two person job if the animal is being uncooperative, which is very possible because the foot will probably be painful to the touch. This should help take care of some of the infection, though.
There are other products used for similar purposes that help. These products are used on the infected feet of pet birds, chickens, and any domesticated rodents. They kill germs and all sorts of fungus while it helps to heal cuts and wounds. You can find these at feed stores or online.
Diet And Exercise
As you likely already know, guinea pigs and humans are the only mammals that don’t produce their own Vitamin C. This important nutrient is essential to the healing process of a cavy with bumblefoot. Although there is some in their food, and in vegetable treats, it is always a good idea to give a Vitamin C supplement to your pet to make sure it gets enough. Bottles of the vitamin are available in pet stores or online.
The best way to administer it is through a dropper. This way you can tell how much your pet is actually getting. If you put the dropper near the guinea pigs mouth it will start to drink it just like through the water bottles. Don’t worry! Guinea pigs love the taste so there will not be a struggle to make sure enough is taken.
As far as exercise goes, once the guinea pig is feeling better it is very important to make sure to give it lots of floor time every day. You can lay a towel down on the floor and allow them to walk around and explore. Simply moving the food as far away from the eating area in the cage as possible will help, as indicated above. The main idea is to make sure your pet moves around and doesn’t just lie in one spot all day.
Even the best loved and cared for guinea pigs get sick or injured from time to time. There are steps that can be taken to help avoid a foot infection, but it could still happen. If it does, try to catch it early and be sure to take all the steps necessary to treat the issue as soon as possible. Your guinea pig might not love you during the treatments, but will be very grateful for your work in the end.