Pododermatitis in Guinea Pigs
Pododermatitis is a condition in which a guinea pig’s footpad becomes inflamed, develops sores, or becomes overgrown. The appearance may be similar to callouses, or small tumors on the bottom of the foot. This condition is commonly referred to as bumblefoot.
When bumblefoot is left untreated or is present in a very severe form, there are sometimes complications in treatment and the infected leg may have to be amputated.
Symptoms and Types
The infected guinea pig’s footpads may become inflamed (redness), develop sores, or become overgrown over the course of many months. Other signs and symptoms include:
- Loss of hair on affected foot
- Reluctance to move or inability to walk normally
- Loss of appetite due to pain
- Joint or tendon swelling
- Amyloid deposition (protein deposits) in the kidneys, liver, hormonal glands, and pancreas
The Staphylococcus aureus bacterium is the most frequent cause, entering the guinea pig's feet through tiny cuts or scrapes in the foot. Underlying factors include:
- Excessive pressure on the feet
- Nutritional imbalance, especially lack of sufficient vitamin C
- Overgrown nails
- Wire floor caging
- Poor sanitation
- Humid environments
You will need to give a thorough history of your guinea pig's health, diet, onset of symptoms, and living conditions (whether in a wire or smooth floored cage, humid or dry environment, etc.). Your veterinarian can then diagnose pododermatitis by examining your guinea pig visually and by taking blood and fluid samples for a bacterial culture. While Staphylococcus aureus is the most commonly diagnosed bacterial infection in bumblefoot, the exact bacteria will need to be confirmed so that the appropriate antibiotic is prescribed to treat the infection.
If pododermatitis is detected early, simply switching your guinea pig’s living quarters to one with a smooth floor, improving the sanitation, and changing the bedding to softer material may improve your pet's condition. It is also important to keep the cage flooring dry, since a damp floor will soften the foot tissue, making it more prone to cracking and thereby making it more prone to opportunistic infection. Your veterinarian may also instruct you to increase the amount of vitamin C in the guinea pig's diet, if it is found to be lacking.
If the condition needs medical treatment beyond simple environmental changes, your veterinarian will provide this. Your veterinarian will clean the wounds, clip the hair around the infected areas, and trim any overgrown nails and dead tissue on the feet. Soaking the feet in antibiotic solutions may also prove to be useful. In severe cases, guinea pigs may need oral antibiotics and pain medications. You may also need to keep the feet bandaged, with fresh dressings and topical antibiotics applied regularly to encourage healing. Prolonged, untreated cases where pododermatitis has worsened to severe infection that is not responding to immediate treatment may require amputation of the infected leg.
Living and Management
Ensure that your guinea pig's living quarters are cleaned and disinfected before returning it to the cage. If you have been using a cage with a wire floor, you will need to replace the flooring with a smooth bottom, with soft places for your guinea pig to rest. Clean up any water spills immediately so that your guinea pig's feet remain dry, as wet feet are more prone to cracking. While your guinea pig is recovering, move it to a quiet place in the home, away from high activity. If necessary, you may need to restrain your pet from moving around too much, so that the foot will have a better chance of healing. Follow your veterinarian's instructions for dressing and applying topical medications to the affected feet.
Providing cages with smooth bottoms for your guinea pigs, keeping the floors clean and dry, and treating any injuries immediately can help prevent pododermatitis from occurring. Because this is a relatively common ailment, guinea pig owners are advised to check their pets' feet daily, including the length of the nails, and watching the guinea pig's weight and making dietary changes as needed.