Caring for Bumblefoot in Pet Rats

How to commonly treat and prevent bumblefoot in pet fancy rats without prescription medication.

Bumblefoot is a common condition for small exotic animals. This is a bacterial based infection of the skin that results in painful welt-like tissue sores on the paws of your pet rat. If left untreated, it can grow to a mass large and painful enough that it could require amputation and/or become cancerous.

Bumblefoot is characterized by (typically) a red sore that looks like a welt. They can also be yellowed and crusted. Bumbles usually occur because the cage conditions have become unsanitary.

Most rat owners keep rats in pairs or trios, and dominance squabbles can result in injury. Letting these wounds go untreated can help cause the disease as well.

The first key to preventing bumblefoot is prevention. The cleaner the cage, the less likely the rat is to develop infection. For single rats, the cage litter should be changed once a week at least. All bowls and water bottles should be wiped down and cleansed, and any hard plastic toys as well. At least twice a month the cage should be washed thoroughly with a petsafe cleaner. For two or more rats, clean the cage 2-3 times a week, and scrub it down at least three times a month. Keeping hard surfaces clean and free of standing urine and feces is key to preventing bumblefoot in the first place.

If your rat does contract the disease, there are several ways to treat it without running to the vet first. However! If you have a small exotics vet, go there immediately. Most antibiotics for bumblefoot are cheap (less than $10) and all you will really end up paying for is the office visit. If you do not have a vet, or cannot afford the visit, use the following methods to help treat the infection.

  1. Clean the infected area with a warm wash cloth. This will remove any dirt, urine, and other debris from the area. Next, soak the area with a compress made from 1 cup warm (not hot) water and a heaping tablespoon of Epsom Salts (available at most Kmarts, Targets, Walmarts, etc.) Apply this however is easiest for you and your rat 3 times a day for 5-10 minutes. If the rat is unwilling to submit to a compress, fill a basin with three cups warm water, 1/4 cup salts, and have your rat stand in it for the same amount of time, making sure the bumble is submerged. (Note: some Epsom salts will have a different ratio of water:salt. Follow the guidelines on your bag of salts always.) If you do this early enough, you may begin to see improvements in a week.
  2. Clean the infected area with a warm wash cloth. Apply the same Epsom Salt compresses as stated above, but after the soaking, apply a corticosteroid to the infected area 2 times a day. These can be found over the counter or as samples from your local dermatologist. Results should appear within a week.
  3. Clean the infected area with a warm wash cloth. Apply a grapeseed oil extract compress to the infected area. This compress must be worn for most of the day, and changed once a day. This is difficult to do because rats are notorious for chewing off the compresses. If you must, bind the compress with prewrap or similar material, then dabble a bitter oil on the outside of the wrap to prevent chewing. This one should begin working within half a week to one week.
  4. Clean the infected area with a warm wash cloth. Apply a Blue-Kote compress, an anti-fungal/bacteria available to buy without a prescription online. This most be applied 2 times a day. I recommend doing the salt baths 3 times a day with this as well. This is the most aggressive and recommended treatment, but Blue-Kote is usually bought and shipped online, which is why I made it number 4 on my list. Bumbles seem to pop up overnight, so the supplies would need to be rush delivered. You could apply any of the above treatments while your Blue-Kote is being shipped.

Things to remember:

  • Bumblefoot is best treated by a vet with antibiotics. However, the above treatments can provide relief until a vet can be seen, or early enough to clear the infection.
  • Bumblefoot is a bacterial infection, the result of infected cuts and/or unsanitary cage conditions.
  • Bumblefoot can become cancerous, cause the limb to need amputation, and/or result in bone infections if left untreated.
  • Prevention is the best treatment for bumblefoot. Clean the cage often!
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