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Bumblefoot: A Common Pet Rat Problem

While the term "bumblefoot" might sound cute, it really is a disease that can make the surface of your pet [rat]'s foot (also called plantar) swell until it becomes so inflamed that your pet wouldn't be able to move around without being excruciated by pain. Its medical term is "ulcerative pododermatitis", a disease that is closely related to a medical condition that happens to birds and other rodents like rabbits and hamsters. Most people refer to this disease as "bumblefoot" because it is mainly characterized by red lumps and bumps.

How do rats contract bumblefoot?

Under normal circumstance, bumblefoot develops from a simple wound on the rats plantar that becomes infected the bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. These microorganisms usually thrive in soiled cage flooring or bedding. Upon contraction, the wound would start to appear red, underneath would be a deposit of yellowish pus that will fill up abscesses. The severity of the infection can shoot up in a matter of hours, though other cases would take at least a couple of days. The infected area will become enlarged and painful until the rat would become lethargic because of the pain associated to the lumps.

Experts say that rats are most likely to develop bumblefoot when they are obese. One viable explanation to this is that obese rats tend to be big and heavy, thus they impose greater pressure on their feet. The other factors considered by experts are: genetic problems, chronic trauma on the wounded area, unsanitary cages and rough bedding.

How can you tell if a rat has bumblefoot?

Like what has been discussed above, the most obvious sign that a rat has bumblefoot is the appearance of lumps and bumps on the rodents' plantar. The lumps can swell so much that in some cases, they would burst out to release blood and pus; afterwards, the wound would scab and then swell back, only to burst out again. This is a very painful condition for the rats; thus, if you own a rat that happens to exhibit signs of bumblefoot, it is humane for you to act on the condition fast.

How is bumblefoot treated?

As a general advise, do not treat bumblefoot yourself, especially if you have no experience how. When you discover that your pet rat is having trouble walking and you notice that there are red lumps appearing on its plantar, the best step you can take is to call a veterinarian right away. This medical condition is treated through oral antibiotics, drugs which an "average and reasonable" person is not supposed to dispense on his/her own. Let a professional do a complete check-up of your rat's real medical condition and follow the veterinarian's prescription.

There are cases when the lesions caused by the disease do not subside even after inducing oral antibiotics to the animal. For such cases, veterinarians would often suggest a minor operation on the rat's foot. The operation is very simple and would only take a couple of minutes to complete; all that the veterinarian would do is to cut through the lesions and manually remove the pus deposited inside. The success of this treatment is still dependent of the rat's responses to the drugs given to it after the operation.

How can you protect your rats from bumblefoot?

In general, you will need to make sure that your pet rats are kept in a clean and sanitary cage or pen. As much as possible, make sure that the cages will do not have edges that can wound the rats. Be more attentive to your rats; if you notice that one of them is wounded, it is wise if you isolate this rodent first before you start treating its wound. Association to other rats might only lead to repeated disturbance of the wound as it dries up.
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