The signature hop of rabbits is incredibly cute but becomes concerning when your rabbit limps, drags a leg, or refuses to put weight on a foot. There are many dangers to rabbit limbs. Rabbits have light bones to help them move faster than predators. This also makes their bones susceptible to injury.
Why is your rabbit limping? A limping, hurt rabbit may be suffering from various injuries and illnesses involving either its feet or its legs. The most common leg issues include broken or fractured bones, arthritis, infection, or abscesses. The feet are most susceptible to pressure sores, dislocated toes, or sprains.
In most cases, injuries to a rabbit’s feet or legs are easily treatable as long as they are identified in their early stages.
If your rabbit may be suffering from any of the conditions that cause limping, it is important to restrict its movement and take it to the vet. Possible treatments include anti-inflammatory medication for arthritis, antibiotics for infections, splinting if the leg is broken, or draining in the case of an abscess.
There are several common reasons your rabbit is hurt or limping:
- Broken leg
- Dislocated leg
- Torn Muscle
- Septic Arthritis
- Overgrown Nails
In this article, we examine the most common causes of limping and pain in rabbits, how to treat them, and the best practices to prevent these issues in the future.
What Should I Do If My Rabbit is Limping?
If you notice your rabbit is limping or refusing to place its weight on one of its legs, it is important to ascertain why before deciding on the best course of action.
Follow these steps to keep your bunny safe and find out what is wrong:
- Isolate your rabbit from other animals to prevent further injury
- Very gently examine the injured limb to identify whether it is the paw or leg causing the problem
- Take note of any other symptoms the rabbit may be exhibiting, such as swelling around the affected area, refusal to eat or drink, and lethargy
Using the list below, you may be able to ascertain the source of your rabbit’s pain and choose the best route to remedy the situation.
10 Common Injuries of Rabbits and Their Treatment
Some of the conditions below only affect rabbits’ legs, some only the paws, others both. Once you know whether it is the paw or leg causing your rabbit pain, it simplifies the process of identifying what is wrong.
1. Broken Hind Leg
Rabbits have very light, brittle bones. This means their legs are prone to injury, most commonly when jumping out of your hands or from high surfaces. The shock from their landing could cause a fracture or break the bone entirely.
The symptoms of a broken leg may include obvious deformation of the limb. Deformation includes a foot bent sideways, a dangling leg, or a bone sticking out of the skin. Other signs include swelling, refusal to put any weight on a leg, and signs of extreme pain such as teeth grinding, rapid breathing, and bulging eyes.
If you suspect your rabbit’s leg is broken, restrict its movement by gently wrapping it in a towel or placing it in a small cage. It would be best if you took any rabbit with a possibly broken leg to the vet immediately. There is no way to fix a broken leg without professional experience.
The vet will take an x-ray of the leg to determine the extent of the fracture and may prescribe pain medication. Depending on how bad the break is, they may also put the leg in a cast or splint.
Recovery from a broken or fractured leg bone may take up to three months, depending on its severity. During this time, it’s important to limit your rabbit’s movement, so it doesn’t further damage the leg.
In nature, broken bones often heal on their own. However, the heal often leaves rabbits with deformed or crippled legs. It also often shortens a rabbit’s lifespan because it can’t continue to function as well on a poorly-healed bone (if it survives predators while injured). Don’t attempt treatment at home without professional advice. Most cases of broken bones will, at least, require an x-ray, prescription of painkillers, and the stabilization of the injured leg.
2. Arthritis in the Hind Joints
Just like humans, rabbits may suffer from arthritis as they grow older.
Symptoms of rabbit arthritis include:
- Reduced appetite
- Stiffness when your rabbit starts moving after being still for a while
- Poop and urine-covered bottom. This may occur as joint pain makes it difficult for your rabbit to move its pelvis when relieving itself.
Arthritis is inflammation of the joints and, in most cases, can be diagnosed by a vet taking x-rays and blood tests. If the diagnosis is confirmed, your rabbit will be prescribed painkillers.
Overweight rabbits are also more prone to suffering from arthritis than others as they put more pressure on their joints. If your rabbit is overweight, your vet may recommend a weight loss program to ease the strain on the rabbit’s limbs.
There is no cure for rabbit arthritis, and palliative care is recommended. Adjust its cage to allow easier movement and ensure it doesn’t have to jump from high surfaces to prevent further pain and injury.
3. Dislocated Leg or Foot Bone
A dislocated bone has similar symptoms to a broken one. Take your rabbit to the vet to ascertain the cause of the limping and pain.
If a minor dislocation is confirmed, the vet may suggest simply taking your rabbit home, restricting its movement, and allowing the injury to heal by itself. A more serious dislocation may require the rabbit to be sedated so the vet can put the joint back in place. In this case, the leg will also be strapped to ensure proper healing.
Care for a rabbit with a dislocated leg includes limiting its movement and managing its pain with vet-prescribed medication.
4. Torn or Pulled Leg Muscle
A torn or pulled muscle may cause limping and swelling around the affected limb. If you are certain the leg is not dislocated or broken, you can usually treat a torn muscle at home.
You should do this by giving the rabbit the appropriate pain medication and anti-inflammatories, as well as restricting its movement. Monitoring the rabbit’s condition throughout recovery is essential. If the injury seems to worsen, or your rabbit refuses to eat, take it to the vet immediately.
A torn muscle usually takes several weeks to heal.
5. Septic Arthritis (Caused by Infection)
Septic arthritis is caused by bacterial infection of the joints. This may happen during an injury where bacteria is introduced into the rabbit’s bloodstream.
If you notice serious symptoms, take your rabbit to the vet immediately. Serious symptoms include stiffness, difficulty moving and grooming, swelling near the joints radiating heat, or lethargy.
To diagnose septic arthritis, the vet will take blood tests and x-rays. Arthritic joints will appear hazy on the x-ray, and elevated infection levels will confirm the arthritis is septic.
In this case, your rabbit will likely be prescribed anti-inflammatory medicine along with antibiotics. It is imperative septic arthritis is caught early on to ensure it can be treated.
6. Abscessed Leg or Paw
Abscesses are very common in rabbits and can appear anywhere on their bodies, from their eyes to their feet.
The formation of an abscess on a rabbit’s leg or paw may cause limping, swelling, pain, and cause an obvious lump at the site. Abscesses develop due to injuries like cuts leading to a bacterial infection. The localized infection attracts white blood cells to try to fight it. Dead bacterial and white blood cells form a pool of pus which feels like a soft bubble under the skin.
If you suspect your rabbit has an abscess on its paw or leg that’s causing it to limp, take it to a vet to have, it drained.
The vet will make a small cut on top of the abscess, drain out the pus, rinse it with saline solution, disinfect it, and apply a topical antibiotic. Depending on the size of the abscess, oral antibiotics may also be prescribed.
As part of the daily care, should flush the abscess with salt water to prevent reinfection.
7. Sprain (Soft Tissue Injury)
A sprain, dislocation, and broken leg have similar symptoms and causes. Main signs include limping, swelling, and the inability to put weight on the affected limb. If you are sure your rabbit’s leg is only sprained, it is relatively easy to treat at home. However, if you are unsure, it is best to get a vet to confirm the diagnosis.
If a sprain is confirmed, treat the rabbit by applying an ice pack if there’s swelling and restricting its movement so it can rest properly. Most of the time, if it’s not severe, the sprain will heal on its own within a week.
8. Tumor (Usually Found in Older Rabbits)
Although the cause of most lumps that may appear on your rabbit’s paws or legs will be due to an abscess forming, at times, the real culprit could be a tumor.
Limping may be accompanied by a bulge on the leg or paw, lethargy, weight loss, and reduced appetite.
Abscesses usually feel soft to the touch, while tumors are firmer. Do not attempt to diagnose and treat a possible tumor at home.
If you suspect the bump or bulge might not be an abscess, take your bunny to the vet immediately. Tumors are typically diagnosed through blood tests and a fine needle aspiration or biopsy. The vet will suggest treatment based on the type of tumor and its location if the diagnosis is confirmed.
Most benign tumors on the legs or paws and malignant tumors identified early on can be removed by a simple surgery.
If a malignant tumor has the time to grow and develop unnoticed, radiation therapy may be suggested. If the treatment is not effective, euthanasia may be the most humane option once the disease spreads. Thankfully, tumors do not affect young, healthy rabbits very often.
9. Pododermatitis (Sore Hocks)
Pododermatitis is also known as sore hocks. It manifests as pressure sores under the feet. Since a rabbit’s back legs carry most of its weight, pressure sores usually form on the hind feet. You may notice your rabbit limping and not putting much weight on its legs in its early stages. A quick examination will reveal pinkish-red blisters under its feet.
If left untreated, pododermatitis will cause inflammation starting from the location of the pressure sores and possibly spread to the legs. If the sores are open, bacterial infection may occur and complicate the condition.
If you notice any of the symptoms of pododermatitis, take your rabbit to the vet to assess the extent of the damage and prescribe the correct treatment course. This may consist of something as simple as changing the type of bedding used, applying topical ointments, or administering anti-inflammatories.
More serious cases may require surgery.
10. Overgrown Nails
Overgrown nails in rabbits aren’t usually the cause of limping, but they can lead to injuries to the feet. When a rabbit’s nails reach past the fur on its feet, or they start to curl, they need trimming.
Overgrown nails can snag on objects in the environment, causing tears in the skin of the foot and leading to infection or even dislocating a toe. Both these injuries may result in your bunny’s feet hurting, causing it to limp.
If you notice your rabbit has hurt its feet due to overgrown nails, take it to the vet first. It’s essential to diagnose and treat the injury before any further action is taken. Once you know what’s wrong and how to fix it, trim your rabbit’s nails.
Prevent Injuries to Your Rabbit’s Legs and Feet
Rabbits have notoriously sensitive bones and feet. Therefore, it is important to make sure you’re doing everything you can to prevent injuries to their legs or paws.
The steps you can take to lower the chances of your rabbit’s legs or paws getting hurt include the following.
Use the Correct Bedding
Choosing the right bedding for your rabbit to prevent pressure sores or cuts on their feet is very important. The best options are fleece, hay, aspen, or straw, depending on your rabbit’s enclosure size and whether it is indoors or outdoors.
Provide a Safe Environment
Bunny-proofing your rabbit’s environment can prevent many injuries. Make sure it can’t fall from a great height, or hop out of its enclosure and possibly get injured while you’re not around. Most broken or fractured bones are caused by rabbits jumping off of furniture or out of your hands and hurting themselves on the landing.
Supply a Healthy Diet and Sufficient Exercise
High fiber foods like leafy greens and hay help keep your rabbit healthy. A good diet combined with regular exercise will prevent your bunny from becoming overweight. Overweight rabbits have greater pressure on their legs and feet. This may result in injury or conditions like arthritis and pododermatitis. You can provide greater exercise to your bunny by providing a larger run for it to roam around during the daytime.
Adhere to Annual Vet Checks
Taking your rabbit for annual vet checks could help identify tumors and growths in the early stages and give treatment a better chance at being effective. It will also help ensure your rabbit isn’t becoming overweight and its nails aren’t overgrown.
Trim Your Rabbit’s Nails
It is crucial to keep your rabbit’s nails at the right length by trimming its nails every one to two months, depending on the growth rate.
This will keep your rabbit’s feet in the best possible condition and prevent future injuries caused by the nails getting stuck or snagged on something.
Keep Their Feet Clean
Rabbits’ feet can get dirty very quickly, whether from walking through their feces or urine, running over a muddy patch outside, or just spending their time in the garden. Dirty feet and legs make it difficult to spot cuts, sores, or abscesses. The dirt could also cause infection if it gets into a sore or cut already present on your bunny’s limbs.
The easiest way to clean your rabbit’s feet is with a wet cloth. Wipe down its front and back legs, and make sure to get the bottoms of its feet as well. You can also use a gentle disinfectant designed for animals.
Regularly Check Your Rabbit’s Legs and Feet
Running your hands over your bunny’s front and back legs and checking the bottom of their feet for any signs of injury can help you catch abscesses, tumors, and sore hocks early on. As with most illnesses, the earlier they are identified, the better the chance of recovery.
As rabbits instinctively hide their injuries and pain to avoid attracting predators, it is vital to pay extra attention to possible sources of injury or illness. If the proper care is taken, most rabbits can go their whole lives without any serious problems with their limbs.
Even if your rabbit appears hurt, the majority of leg or foot conditions shouldn’t be cause for worry. If caught early on, they are easily treatable with simple medications and ample rest, and they should be up and hopping again in no time.