what is splay leg in rabbits?
Health and Wellness

What Causes Splayed Legs in Rabbits?

Splayed legs is the most common of all rabbit deformities. Bunnies born with this condition cannot retract an impacted leg into their body. This leaves a rabbit vulnerable to health concerns. Their functional limbs must carry their full body weight, causing wear and tear on the joints.

This is an inherited congenital disorder. If a rabbit with splayed leg mates, their offspring will likely be born with the condition. Splay leg is often visible from birth. Rabbits rarely develop splayed leg later in life. Injury due to walking on slippery surfaces can cause this, though.

There is no medical or surgical cure for splayed legs. Despite this, it does not need to ruin a bunny’s life. With appropriate lifestyle considerations, the rabbit will live a long, full life. This guide explains how to help a rabbit with splayed leg to live a comfortable and contented life.

What is Splay Leg in Rabbits?

Splay leg, also known as hip dysplasia, is a musculoskeletal condition that affects rabbits. Splayed leg means that at least one leg that cannot be retracted into their body.

It most commonly affects one or both or a rabbit’s hind legs. It can also impact the front legs, though. Some unfortunate bunnies experience the issue in all four limbs.

A rabbit with a single splayed leg can live a normal life. They will need a treatment plan to accommodate their condition, though. Certain lifestyle adjustments will be necessary.

Multiple splayed legs can seriously compromise a bunny’s quality of life. If a rabbit is unable to move, euthanasia is the most humane option.

What Causes Splayed Leg in Rabbits?

It is considered to be an inherited congenital disorder. This means that a parent with the ailment will pass it on to their young. Most rabbits are born with the condition.

It is usually evident from birth. Sometimes it takes a few weeks before it becomes apparent. A baby bunny usually starts hopping before they reach two weeks of age. If they cannot do so, then splayed leg is likely.

Splayed legs in older rabbits are also possible, although this is rare. It requires a great deal of wear and tear to the joints. The condition can be caused by slippery surfaces, though. Wooden or laminated floors are the likeliest culprits.

What Causes Splayed Leg in Rabbits?

If a rabbit is unsteady on their feet, their legs will spread as they hop and land. This can take its toll. If the joints are weak, they eventually holding the legs in place.

Also possible, but even less common, is splayed leg as a result of trauma or injury. A severe leg break that is not set correctly may become splayed. The joint will already need to have been severely compromised for this to happen.

What are the Signs of Splayed Leg in Rabbits?

Splayed leg is the most visible of all rabbit deformities. The limb will sit at an unnatural angle, at all times. The angle could be anywhere from 45 to 90 degrees.

The other visible sign of splayed leg is that your rabbit will be unable to hop. Their leg will be unable to hold their weight. Instead, they will flop to the ground. The rabbit will wiggle to move around.

Depending on which limbs are impacted, the rabbit may also be unable to stand. Rabbits stand on their hind to get a better look at potential danger. They also stand when begging.

Splayed front legs in rabbits may or may not inhibit this, depending on their severity. Your bunny could topple over, as they find it challenging to balance. Strong functional hind legs are required to stand, though.

Beyond this, a rabbit will appear perfectly content. They will eat and drink as normal – provided the food and water is within reach. Rabbits with splayed legs cannot climb to reach an elevated water bottle.

Are Splayed Legs Painful for Rabbits to Live With?

It appears that a rabbit with splayed legs is not in significant pain. This is based on observational evidence. No scientific papers exist on this subject.

Many rabbit owners report that their splayed leg bunnies run and play like their friends. A rabbit with splay leg may not be quite as graceful, but they won’t care about this.

Despite this, splayed leg cannot be ignored. If no action is taken, your bunny may suffer from secondary concerns. It is already enough for any rabbit to deal with.

Does Splay Leg Lead to Health Problems for Rabbits?

One of the biggest dangers is the impact that is it has on your rabbit’s general health. In particular, this issue can lead to arthritis and bumblefoot.

Arthritis results from the pressure being placed on your rabbit’s healthy legs. As they move, they’ll be placing more weight on the limbs that carry the burden. This will wear down the collagen found in these joints.

Arthritic symptoms can be eased through supplements. Check pet stores for products that contain glucosamine and chondroitin. Myristol pellets are also a great addition to your pet’s routine.

If you prefer a more homeopathic approach, massage your rabbit’s arthritic joints. This will make your bunny considerably more comfortable. It’s also a great way to strengthen your bond.

Bumblefoot is a bacterial infection in your bunny’s feet. Scientifically known as ulcerative pododermatitis, this condition impacts the hocks on a bunny’s hind legs.

If left untreated, bumblefoot is painful. It can also cause open sores, which lead to bacterial infection. This condition must be treated with antibacterial soap and ointment. Covering a rabbit’s feet until they recover is also essential.

If you are worried about the impact that splay leg is having on your rabbit’s general health, seek professional advice. A specialist lifestyle plan may need to be drawn up.

How is Splay Leg in Rabbits Treated?

There is no medicine available that will help a rabbit with splay leg. Equally, the condition cannot be fixed by surgery. If a rabbit is born with splay leg, they’ll have it for life.

This does not mean that nothing can be done, though. Fitting your rabbit with a leg brace will help them out immeasurably. This will allow the rabbit to hop without impact on their splayed leg.

The University of Miami explains how a leg brace can be created for a bunny with splay leg. The following technique is designed with baby rabbits in mind.

  1. Take a cork, such as that from a wine bottle, and cut it to 1” in length. Attach a cotton pad to each side of the cork.
  2. Relax your bunny, and gently move their spayed leg into a ‘normal’ position. If your rabbit resists, you’re hurting them. Let them go and try again another day with a longer cork.
  3. Place the cork between your rabbit’s ankles. Wrap tape around this cork, until your rabbit’s legs are held in position. Use a tape that can be removed without pulling out your bunny’s fur, but remains sticky.
  4. Be patient. It will take your rabbit time to adjust to this restriction in movement. After a while, they’ll contentedly hop around.

The longer a rabbit lives with the condition, the more accustomed they will become to it. This means that an adult may reject a leg brace. If you’d like to try, professional help is advisable. It’s easy to cause an adult rabbit more stress.

Once your bunny adjusts to their leg brace, they can keep using it. Just change the brace every few days, in order to keep your rabbit clean.

Caring for a Rabbit with Splayed Legs

A rabbit that lives with splayed legs requires special care and attention. This is not a condition that you can ignore and hope it goes away.

When you learn that your bunny has splayed leg, consider the following:

  • The layout of your bunny’s hutch.
  • How your rabbit will exercise.
  • How your rabbit will stay clean.

Splay leg is not debilitating if you make the appropriate lifestyle accommodations for your bunny. You have to remember, though, that your pet will have some limitations.

The Home Environment of a Rabbit with Splayed Leg

A rabbit with splay leg requires a lot of consideration, starting with their hutch. Your bunny must live in a soft, padded hutch. Fill their cage with hay to ensure everything is soft beneath their feet.

Your rabbit’s bedding will also need to be particularly soft. This is not just to ensure comfort, though that is important. It also eases pressure on your rabbit’s healthy joints.

Your rabbit will also need everything at ground level in their hutch. They cannot reach elevated food dishes, or a cage-mounted water bottle. Make sure they can easily reach everything they need.

This consideration also needs to apply to litter trays. Your rabbit will not be able to climb into a high-sided tray. Use a corner tray with at least one low side.

If your bunny is unable to use a litter tray, clean their cage regularly. A rabbit with splay leg will be close to the ground at all times. This leaves them at risk of urine scald. Remove soiled hay as soon as you spot it.

Check the walls and door of your bunny’s hutch. Does it have bars or wire cubes? If so, cover these up without blocking airflow. Your rabbit may get their angled leg trapped in the wire otherwise.

The Exercise Regime of a Rabbit with Splayed Leg

A rabbit with splayed leg still needs to exercise regularly. In fact, it’s arguably even more critical. If arthritis sets into their healthy limbs, regular movement prevents these joints from seizing up.

Your rabbit’s options for exercise indoors will be slightly limited. They will be unable to negotiate the stairs, so everything must be kept on one level. Empty a spare room, if you have one. This can be your rabbit’s personal gym.

Give your rabbit a reason to hop in this room. An empty room is great, because it provides space. Fill the room with treats and toys, and watch your bunny make their way toward them. Just make sure they have soft carpet under their feet.

caring for a rabbit with splayed legs

My House Rabbit has suggestions of games that you can play with rabbit. Alternatively, turn them loose in a familiar setting after rearranging the furniture. Your pet will not be able to resist exploring what they think is new territory.

Don’t push a rabbit with spayed leg too far. Remember that they are placing more pressure on their healthy limbs. This means they’ll wear them down faster.

Do insist on an exercise regime, though, even if your rabbit resists initially. If your bunny puts on weight, they’ll be in even more discomfort.

Grooming and Cleaning a Rabbit with Splayed Leg

If your rabbit has splay leg, they will be less able to groom themselves. This is especially likely if they lose access to a hind leg. You’ll need to make up this shortfall.

The biggest challenges that your rabbit will face will be cleaning their ears. This will be especially troublesome for lop-eared breeds.

It’s simple to clean a bunny’s ears, and they’ll be grateful for it. Wet the end of a long-stemmed Q-tip, and gently insert it into the ear. Scoop up any wax, and remove it. You may need to shine a torch to see what you’re doing.

Bunnies with spay leg will likely need help cleaning their bottom. As rabbits with this condition have poor posture, it’s tough to stay clean. This leaves your bunny at risk of flystrike.

If your rabbit has dried poop attached to their rear, rub cornstarch upon it. Wait a few moments, and brush it out with a wide-toothed comb.

If you find wet feces clinging to your bunny, they’ll need a wash. Gently dunk your rabbit into a sink of warm water, filled with an appropriate shampoo. Ensure that your rabbit is dry before returning them to their hutch.

What is the Prognosis for a Rabbit with Splayed Leg?

Unfortunately, there is no direct cure for splayed legs in rabbits. Don’t despair, though. The condition does not condemn a bunny to a life of misery.

You can even still play with a splay-legged rabbit. Don’t push them too far and cause stress. Equally, don’t treat your bunny like an invalid. That’s not how they’ll view themselves.

Bracing your rabbit’s leg will greatly improve their mobility. With appropriate changes to their housing and lifestyle, they’ll live a normal lifespan. It’s up to you to fill that life with happiness.

Will My Rabbit Need to Have Their Splayed Leg Amputated?

Amputation is a worst-case scenario for a bunny with a splayed leg. This is why it’s so important to find a rabbit-savvy vet. The House Rabbit Society lists such professionals by state. Seek a second opinion if necessary.

If your rabbit loses a limb, they’ll recover quickly. You may be surprised at how well your bunny adjusts. Missing hind legs are tougher to adapt to, but your pet will get there. After all, they could not use their splayed leg anyway.

Amputation is a fast procedure, and comparatively cheap. The incision will be made at the joint, ensuring a clean wound closure. It will only be an option if the rabbit is otherwise in good health, though.

A rabbit with arthritis will struggle to move on three legs. A bunny’s weight must also be kept under control. Obesity will place a significant strain on their remaining limbs.

The most significant lifestyle change for three-legged rabbits comes with cleaning. You will need to help in this regard, especially the ears. A rabbit would ordinarily rely upon their hind legs for this.

Is it Legal to Breed a Rabbit with Splay Leg?

No state declares that it is illegal to breed a rabbit with splayed legs. There are also no restrictions on selling such a bunny. You may well spot a rabbit with splay leg in a pet store.

Despite this, as it’s a congenital condition, the ethics of breeding these bunnies is up for debate. The offspring of a splayed rabbit will likely have the same issue.

This is not the end of the world. Splay-legged rabbits deserve love too, and they make wonderful pets. All the same, why make life difficult for a baby bunny?

Splay leg will never be eliminated entirely. It’s too ingrained in the rabbit populace for that. You can do your bit to reduce it by spaying or neutering your own pet, though.

If your rabbit has a splayed leg, they are considered disabled. This doesn’t need to ruin their life. With care and education, you’ll still enjoy a great relationship.

Compromises will need to be made; this much is certain. This will surely be tempered by helping a bunny live a normal life, though. A rabbit with splay leg needs a home and loving family just as much as any other.