How to Prevent and Treat Bumblefoot in Pet Rats
Tips on what causes bumblefoot in pet rats, how to prevent it and how to treat it.
If you've noticed small bumps on the bottom of your pet rats' feet, they likely have a condition called bumblefoot. Bumblefoot is mostly caused by prolonged exposure and pressure from walking on a wire cage floor. I have had four rats, and have only had bumblefoot affect the two I have in a wire cage. The bumps can get large, almost half the size of their hind feet. Sometimes they may bleed.
If you look closely at the picture you can see small spots on both of my rat's hind feet. They used to be much bigger and bled a few times, but with care on keeping her off the wire cage bottom she is doing much better.
Preventing Bumblefoot in Pet Rats
The best thing you can do to prevent bumblefoot from the start is to buy a cage that does not have a wire bottom. A large bird's cage or rabbit's cage is not a good idea. Rather, cages that have wires on the sides and top but a flat plastic surface, or wire cages with the wire bottom removed so the rats can walk across the bedding instead are good. A fish tank or critter tank is a good idea also.
I didn't know the condition existed at first, but have been treating it now for several months on both of my pet rats.
My Rat Has Bumblefoot, Now What?
The best thing you can do is remove the wire bottom, but if that's not a realistic idea you can still do things that will make a difference.
Start by making sure the entire bottom of the cage is covered completely. Use various cardboard boxes and fill in the sides and corners with old newspapers so every part of wire cage bottom is covered (I use a 2-3 page thickness of newspapers, usually just one page folded multiple times to fit the space being covered). You will have to add fresh newspaper daily (or at the very least every other day) for cleanliness and because the rats tear it up and pull it into their boxes. I also put old pillowcases in so they have a special, soft area to walk upon and simply wash the pillowcases in their own laundry cycle once a week to keep them clean.
Almost any food item can be used for rats (even rats without bumblefoot love boxes). My rat's favorites have been the soda boxes that are long and rectangular, some of the larger frozen pizzas and pie boxes, and pop tart boxes. You're also reusing items for a purpose before they get thrown in the trash.
It only takes a few minutes a day to freshen up the newspaper in their cage. Even if you can remove the wire bottom and let them walk on the bedding (make sure the gap between the cage floor and sides isn't big enough that the rats can squeeze through when you're not around), you will still need to freshen the bedding every few days so they aren't walking on filth.
If you use a bedding that they are walking on, make sure it's a soft bedding without pokey ends. The sharp ends can poke the affected bumblefoot and cause more bleeding.
Treatments for Bumblefoot
While it's best to take your rat to a veternarian to be looked at and possibly treated with antibiotics, there are several things you can do at home to treat your rats' bumblefoot.
Neosporin is safe to use as long the wound is not gaping and it's used in small quantities. Rubbing a little on your finger then on your rat's foot daily will help. You should only put a thin layer on and hold the rat to let it air dry before they go walking around again.
You may want to put a band-aid over the bumblefoot area. This is ok for a day or two, but make sure to remove it so the foot gets fresh air and make sure it isn't too tight that it's stopping blood flow. Also if you do this, check your rat every few hours to make sure they aren't trying to bite the band-aid off as that could just make matters worse.
There is a topical item called Blu-Kote that can be applied to the bumblefoot. You may need to order it online if you can't find it locally.
Are the Rats in Pain While They Have Bumblefoot?
While I cannot say for certain whether or not they are in pain, I would assume there is at the very least a discomfort on the larger cases of bumblefoot. The smaller cases may just be a slight bump while they're walking. However, walking on wire bottoms (the issue that caused the bumblefoot to begin with), probably causes more discomfort than anything.