What’s wrong with my chinchilla’s feet? Are they dry, cracked and bloody? Is your chinchilla not moving? The problem might be bumblefoot.
What is bumblefoot? Bumblefoot is a where the natural calluses on your chinchilla’s feet become too thick. Fluid develops underneath them and can rupture the skin, or the skin can crack when dry. If the wound becomes infected, it becomes a painful open abscess. This stops your chinchilla walking. The infection can spread, and can kill, so take your chinchilla to the vet.
It’s true: a simple infection because of dry feet can kill your chinchilla. It can also point to husbandry issues like an inappropriate or dirty cage. Read the guide below to learn what bumblefoot is, what causes bumblefoot, and how to fix it.
What Is Bumblefoot in Chinchillas?
While the term ‘bumblefoot’ sounds cute enough, it’s a health issue, and not one to be taken lightly.
Chinchillas have foot pads, like any rodent. These foot pads get hard when the chinchilla walks on solid or rough surfaces. This is an adaptation that’s the same as how our skin forms calluses. Calluses are dead and hardened skin, and your chinchilla is supposed to have them.
Bumblefoot isn’t a problem for wild chinchillas because they have a variety of surfaces to walk on: soil, rock, and light grass. But if your chinchilla has to stand on solid or rough surfaces all the time, this callus can get bigger and bigger. Eventually what happens is that fluid builds up underneath the callus called ‘serous fluid’. This can be painful, and is characteristic of early bumblefoot.
The condition can get a lot worse than this. The skin can get dry and crack open, and pressure on the feet can cause the blisters to rupture. This allows bacteria to enter the wound and infect it. What was formerly ‘only’ a blister now becomes an infected ulcer, a.k.a. an abscess. This is characteristic of late stage bumblefoot. The infection can even reach deeper into the foot, affecting muscle, tendon and bone. Amputation may be necessary.
Bumblefoot is also known by the term ‘pododermatitis’. This means dermatitis (inflammation of the skin) on the feet (podo-). Chinchilla bumblefoot is only one kind; it affects lots of similar pets. If you’re familiar with the term ‘sore hocks’ from looking after other small animals, that’s the same thing.
What Causes Bumblefoot in Chinchillas?
The primary cause of bumblefoot is pressure sores. These are patches of skin and tissue that have died due to being put under constant pressure. In normal circumstances, these form useful calluses. But if the development of callus continues, it can form a blister. Once pressure sores develop, the skin can be further damaged by scrapes and cuts. It’s these that allow the bacteria to get in and cause ulcers.
But what is the cause of bumblefoot in chinchilla? What creates these pressure sores, or these scrapes and cuts, in the first place?
Having the wrong kind of bedding can damage a chinchilla’s feet.
Standing on the naked wire bars of the cage is the most common cause. Chinchillas should have fleece bedding, as this provides just the right level of comfort, firmness and absorbency. Wire bars are uncomfortable to stand on, but most importantly provide uneven pressure across the feet. This means that only small areas of the foot have to bear the whole of your chinchilla’s weight. This hastens the death of skin and tissue and the formation of blisters.
Other kinds of bedding that may cause bumblefoot include:
- Rough carpet
- Solid hard floor, e.g. uncovered wood
These cause the same problems but in different ways.
Bedding that doesn’t properly soak up urine, water and feces similarly causes bumblefoot. Urine and water particularly can damage the skin, and the bacteria on the floor of the cage can then enter the wound, causing bumblefoot. This is why naked wire bars are so bad: not only do they cause uneven pressure, but they absorb nothing.
Urinary Tract Disease or Gastrointestinal Disease
Dry chinchilla feet are normal; even a small amount of cracking is to be expected, as are calluses. But on its own, this isn’t a major issue. It’s bacteria that makes bumblefoot so bad. That’s why UTIs and gut problems can either cause or hasten bumblefoot.
When chinchillas have gastrointestinal issues, they may get diarrhea. This can be caused by improper diet or a stomach bug. Either way, diarrhea is messy and your chinchilla might stand in it. This irritates the foot and infects any scratch or scrape that may already be there. UTIs can similarly make bumblefoot worse.
There are other factors that play a part, but won’t cause bumblefoot on their own. These include:
- Obesity. The heavier the chinchilla, the more weight its feet have to bear, and the more likely bumblefoot is.
- Arthritis. This can make a chinchilla reluctant to move, increasing the amount of time it puts pressure on certain parts of its feet.
- Cage too small. If your chin’s cage is too small for it to jump or move around in, it won’t exercise, and will again spend long periods putting pressure on certain parts of the feet.
- Physical trauma to the feet: scratches, puncture wounds, broken toes or feet etc. Physical damage can make it painful for your chinchilla to stand and alter its gait. This changes where it puts pressure on its feet. Trauma can also allow bacteria to infect the feet.
A mixture of causes may be to blame. Bumblefoot is often seen in neglected chinchillas with myriad other health problems.
Can Bumblefoot Spread?
Bumblefoot is not a transmissible disease. So, if you put a healthy chinchilla next to one that has bumblefoot, it won’t catch the condition.
However, it is highly likely that if one chinchilla in an unsuitable cage has bumblefoot, then the other ones will too. That’s because the same issues (rough flooring, nothing to soak up urine, etc.) will affect them all.
The bacteria in a bumblefoot infection can be transmitted from one chinchilla to another. But if a healthy chinchilla has no open wounds on its feet, then it won’t catch them.
Chinchilla Bumblefoot Signs
You must identify bumblefoot as early as you can. If you don’t, a complete recovery may be impossible. Below are the early signs and later signs of bumblefoot.
Early Signs of Bumblefoot in Chinchillas
Bumblefoot has several stages. During the earliest stage, your chinchilla’s feet won’t be obviously hurt. You can only tell that something is wrong if you check them properly.
The earliest issue you’ll likely notice is that your chinchilla stops moving around so much. This occurs because bumblefoot is painful. Even in these early stages, bumblefoot makes the foot tender, so your chinchilla won’t want to put weight on it. If both of its feet hurt, it won’t want to move at all.
If you check your chinchilla’s feet, you may see the slightest of swellings in its foot pads. They may also be red. These symptoms show that the feet are irritated and inflamed. This may be because of irritation from urine or rough flooring, but it may also be an early sign of infection.
You may also notice your chinchilla’s feet pads splayed apart. This occurs because your chinchilla can’t stand comfortably on its feet. Bear in mind, though, that some chinchillas stand like this even if they don’t have bumblefoot; so it’s only an issue if your pet displays other symptoms, too.
Signs of Serious Bumblefoot in Chinchillas
As the issue develops, it gets more painful. Your chinchilla will therefore move around even less than it did before (if that’s possible). You will also see general symptoms of pain such as hunched posture.
As infection develops, it causes open wounds. These are known as ulcers or abscesses if they’re infected, and they are extremely painful. Pus will be visible inside or around these wounds, and you may notice chinchilla foot bleeding. This can cause:
- Chinchilla feet bleed often. Wet or dried blood on your pet’s feet is always a bad sign.
- Dried blood around the chinchilla cage.
- Dark dried blood in chinchilla’s bedding.
Believe it or not, but bumblefoot can get worse still. As it gets worse the infection will spread further into the foot. It can affect muscles, tendons and even bones. More and more tissue can die and/or become infected. If the infection isn’t treated, it can spread around the body and cause ‘sepsis’, which is where the infection attacks the organs. This is fatal.
How Do You Treat Bumblefoot in Chinchillas?
You can’t treat bumblefoot without treating the underlying symptoms, too. So for example: if you go to the vet and get the antibiotics you need, that’s good. But the condition won’t go away long-term unless you correct the cause, be it wire bar flooring, obesity, or something else.
Bear in mind also that even with full and attentive treatment, bumblefoot isn’t necessarily curable. If enough tissue dies, it can’t be replaced. This will cause your pet pain and further infections no matter what you do. That’s why it’s so essential to catch bumblefoot before it gets too bad.
Talk To a Vet
If your chinchilla’s feet have become infected, then your pet will need antibiotics. Infections can spread around the body, so even a relatively simple or unimportant infection in the feet can cause sepsis. Sepsis can kill.
If you have antibiotics from a previous infection, don’t use them. You’ll need new ones. Certain antibiotics only work against certain bacteria, so your vet will need to diagnose the kind of bacteria that’s infecting your chinchilla’s feet before they prescribe more. This is simple enough to do.
Surgery for Bumblefoot
If much of your chinchilla’s foot tissue is dead, surgery may be necessary.
The purpose of surgery is to remove dead infected tissue. Even if the infection can be killed, the tissue would still be dead. It’s best therefore to get rid of it and recover what tissue is still alive.
Unfortunately, this may necessitate the removal of much or most of your chinchilla’s foot. If that’s the case, the vet may recommend putting your chinchilla to sleep. As your chinchilla would be in a lot of pain, this could be the humane option.
How to Treat Bumblefoot at Home
The vet can also assist by helping you figure out what caused the bumblefoot. They can talk to you about appropriate cage setups, or whether a case of gastrointestinal disease or a UTI made it develop. You can then put into practise whatever advice they give, alongside giving your chinchilla its antibiotics.
Note: you cannot treat later stage bumblefoot without a vet’s help. The tips below are to assist your chinchilla in recovery alongside surgery, wound dressing and antibiotics, for which you will need a vet.
Make The Cage More Comfortable
While your chinchilla is recovering, you should make its cage floor comfortable. Replace whatever was there before with a solid piece of wood wrapped in fleece.
You should also consider removing the platforms from your chinchilla’s cage. This will stop your chinchilla from jumping up or down from them, which can make bumblefoot worse. While it’s unlikely to do so, it’s best to preclude the possibility entirely.
Once your chinchilla’s feet have recovered, you have to take the reverse approach, and encourage it to exercise as much as possible. Lack of movement can cause bumblefoot or make it worse, while exercise on a suitable surface helps prevent it.
Bag Balm for Chinchillas
Because bumblefoot is linked to dry, cracked skin, you can fix that with an appropriate moisturizer. Most chinchilla owners use Bag Balm, a brand that specializes in intense moisturizers. They have products specifically for pets.
If you do plan on using Bag Balm, be careful. Don’t apply it straight to your chinchilla’s open wound. It will need to heal first before you can touch it without causing agony for your pet. Don’t keep going until the bottoms of your chinchilla’s feet are perfectly soft. They aren’t supposed to be. Chinchillas are supposed to have calluses; they’re just not supposed to rupture and cause infections. Only apply bag balm until your chinchilla’s feet aren’t inflamed and uncomfortable any more.
Bag Balm works best as a preventative measure. Start using it when you notice the early signs of bumblefoot, alongside correcting whatever problems caused it in the first place.
Bag Balm can be found in large drug stores, but is a U.S. product that isn’t found abroad. If you don’t have access to it, thick moisturizers made of things like beeswax may work in the same way.
No Dust Baths
You should also stop giving your chinchilla dust baths until the condition has healed. That’s because the dry dust will further dry out your chinchilla’s feet, making the bumblefoot worse.
Chinchillas won’t die if they don’t bathe in dust. It’s akin to washing your hair: you’ll be uncomfortable and smelly if you don’t, but it won’t kill you. A chinchilla could theoretically live its whole life without bathing.
The worst that will happen is that your pet becomes stressed. While that isn’t ideal, it’s better than further compromising its health. You can start giving it dust baths again once the wound has healed and you have corrected the issues with its cage.