What is Splay Leg in Rabbits?

Splay leg. Just the name itself may make rabbit owners and breeders cringe. This unusual condition strikes fear into the hearts of those welcoming a brand new, innocent litter into the world. Will their tiny legs be straight? Will they stand and walk naturally? Or will they appear grotesquely splayed, unable to function normally? What causes this disturbing deformity and how can it be prevented? Is there hope for these fragile little kits? In this extensive guide, we will get to the bottom of the mysteries surrounding splay leg in rabbits. You’ll learn everything from the causes, signs, treatments and prognosis to how to best care for these special needs bunnies. Get ready to hop down the rabbit hole and explore the complex world of splay leg!

What is Splay Leg in Rabbits?

Splay leg, also known as spraddle leg, is a condition in rabbits where their legs are splayed outwards instead of positioned normally under the body. It is typically seen in newborn rabbits and occurs when the Kit's (young rabbit) legs fail to return to the normal positioned tucked under the body after birth.

The legs of a kit with splay leg will appear stiff, extended and rotated out to the side in an unnatural looking position. Often both back legs are affected resulting in a total loss of normal function. The kit will be unable to stand or hop. Splay leg is an orthopedic abnormality that requires quick intervention for the health and mobility of the rabbit.

What Causes Splayed Leg in Rabbits?

There are several potential causes of splay leg in rabbits:

  • Genetics – There is believed to be a hereditary component meaning certain breeds may be predisposed. Larger rabbit breeds with shorter legs seem more susceptible.

  • Injury during kindling – If the doe steps on her kits during birth it can cause injury and trauma to the legs. Difficult births may increase risk.

  • Muscle/nerve damage – Issues with nerves, muscles or connective tissues can prevent the kit from drawing the legs in properly.

  • Nutritional deficiencies – Lack of sufficient calcium, vitamin E or other nutrients during pregnancy can contribute.

  • Environmental factors – Slippery surfaces, wire cage floors, excess moisture or temperatures may play a role.

  • Uterine positioning – If kits are restricted in the uterus this can hamper normal leg positioning and muscle development.

Often it is due to a combination of hereditary and environmental factors. The definitive cause may be difficult to pinpoint in individual cases. Consulting with an experienced rabbit breeder or veterinarian can help determine possible reasons for splay leg in a litter.

What are the Signs of Splayed Leg in Rabbits?

There are some clear signs to look out for when checking for splay leg in rabbit kits:

  • Legs stiffly splayed outwards – The most obvious sign is the kit's legs positioned away from the body in an unnatural, wide stance. Both back legs are usually affected but can be just one leg.

  • Unable to stand or hop – The abnormal leg positioning prevents the kit from standing, hopping or walking normally. Affected kits remain lying down.

  • Legs appear lifeless – The legs look limp and flaccid, lacking normal muscle control and tone. They do not retract naturally under the body.

  • Toes pointed out – The kit's toes seem to point outwards instead of being positioned forwards. The feet may twist inwards or outwards.

  • Fur worn off – Constant contact with the ground can rub off fur patches on the inside/outside of the legs.

  • Reddening and sores – Friction with surfaces can cause reddening, sores and irritation on the limbs.

  • Abnormal crawling – Kits attempt to pull themselves around using front legs/paws while back legs drag limply behind.

If newborn rabbits show stiff, splayed back legs and cannot stand or hop properly, splay leg should be suspected right away.prompt and treatment is needed.

Are Splayed Legs Painful for Rabbits to Live With?

Splay leg itself does not necessarily cause pain for the rabbit, especially when first born. However, there are several ways that discomfort, distress and pain can develop if splay leg is left untreated:

  • Muscle spasms – Abnormal muscle positioning may lead to painful muscle spasms in the legs.

  • Joint damage – Limp, flaccid limbs place stress on hip and other joints leading to injury and arthritis.

  • Sores and lesions – Constant friction with ground causes wounds that can become infected and painful.

  • Paralysis – Nerve damage from untreated splay leg may eventually lead to paralysis which can be uncomfortable.

  • Falls and accidents – Impaired mobility increases falling risk resulting in bruises, cuts and possible fractures.

  • Difficulty nursing – Kits struggle to reach the doe's nipples which can cause hunger, dehydration and distress.

  • Teasing and bullying – Other rabbits may push around or tease a rabbit with splay leg which causes emotional distress.

While the initial splaying of the legs may not hurt at first, the longer splay leg persists the greater the likelihood of chronic pain and suffering developing. Early treatment is key to preventing discomfort and distress.

Does Splay Leg Lead to Health Problems for Rabbits?

Yes, splay leg can lead to a number of health problems if left untreated in rabbits:

  • Pressure sores – Constant pressure on the limbs can cause sores prone to infection. Prolonged contact with urine and feces exacerbates this.

  • Leg paralysis – Nerve damage and lack of limb use can eventually lead to paralysis in one or both legs.

  • Urinary issues – An inability to move properly to urinate can lead to urine scalding and infections.

  • Aspiration pneumonia – Difficulty nursing due to impaired mobility may cause milk aspiration leading to pneumonia.

  • Malnourishment – Reduced nursing capacity can result in rabbits failing to thrive and become malnourished. Supplemental feeding may be required.

  • Obesity – Lack of exercise can predispose to excessive weight gain and obesity related illness.

  • Arthritis – Joint stresses may progress to degenerative arthritis causing chronic immobility and pain.

  • Bone deformities – Abnormal bone growth and joints distorted by unusual positions.

  • Depression – Chronic health issues and disability can negatively impact mood and quality of life.

The longer splay leg goes unresolved, the more likely secondary health issues can emerge ranging from minor to severely life-limiting. Early intervention is best to prevent complications.

How is Splay Leg in Rabbits Treated?

Several treatment approaches may be used for splay leg in rabbits:

  • Leg splints – Lightweight splints or casts applied to stabilize the limbs in normal position allowing muscles/ligaments to strengthen. These need to be monitored closely to avoid too much pressure.

  • Supportive harness/slings – Custom slings help suspend the rabbit's torso while taking pressure off the legs and keeping them positioned correctly. These may be worn short term to assist standing/movement.

  • Physical therapy – Gentle range of motion and stretching exercises help improve muscle tone and restore function. Can be combined with massage. Needs to be done multiple times daily.

  • Corrective shoes – Custom padded shoes, boots or orthotics that hold the feet in proper alignment while protecting paws.

  • Medications – Anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling. Muscle relaxants or analgesics if there is pain.

  • Assist devices – Cart-like devices or modified wheelchairs to enable mobility.

  • Surgery – In severe cases surgery to lengthen tendons or reposition bones may be an option if other methods fail.

Most cases are treated with splinting or supportive harnesses combined with physical therapy. Medications, orthotics or assist devices may supplement this. Surgery is a last resort if non-surgical approaches are unsuccessful. The sooner treatment begins the better the outcome typically is.

Caring for a Rabbit with Splayed Legs

Caring for a rabbit with splay leg requires some special considerations while treatment is underway:

  • Protect legs from trauma – Use soft bedding, limit time on hard/slippery floors. Avoid scrapes, knocks or friction.

  • Check legs frequently – Monitor for sores, irritation, swelling. Keep splints/harnesses from rubbing.

  • Keep clean – Gently wash legs and check for urine scald. Keep bedding dry.

  • Encourage movement – Motivate bunny to be active but provide ample rest periods. Avoid obesity.

  • Assist with nursing – Supplement feed to ensure bunny gets adequate nutrition if mobility impaired.

  • Address discomfort – Use padded mats for comfort. Administer pain medication as prescribed.

  • Stimulate circulation – Gentle leg massages improve blood flow. Range of motion exercises too.

  • Modify environment – Add ramps, limit barriers so bunny can move around safely. Soft footing.

  • Emotional support – Comfort an anxious or depressed bunny with affection and treats. Monitor quality of life.

With attentive supportive care and follow up treatment, caring for a rabbit with splay leg greatly improves their prognosis for recovery. Liaising closely with the vet is imperative.

The Home Environment of a Rabbit with Splayed Leg

Creating an appropriate home environment is key when bringing a rabbit with splayed legs home from treatment:

  • Enclosure – A roomy pen or enclosure allows space to move yet offers boundaries. May include hide box.

  • Protective flooring – Cover hard floors with rubber mats, carpets or towels to avoid slips and abrasions.

  • Limit loose wires – Don't leave chargers or wires loose that could entangle legs. Use protective cord covers.

  • Block access – Restrict access to furniture to avoid risky climbing or jumping. Use baby gates.

  • Ramps and steps – Provide ramps up to sofas, beds and levels bunny can no longer hop up to.

  • Soft bedding – Line pen and sleeping area with blankets, fleece or towels. Change when soiled.

  • Litter box – Use a low entry litter box without a rim to allow easy access.

  • Water and food bowls – Use no-tip bowls secured low enough for bunny to reach. Elevated on platform if needed.

  • Night light – Allow some low lighting at night to navigate safely to litter box.

  • Hideaways – Offer boxes, tunnels, cardboard tubes to duck into for security and privacy.

The home needs bunny-proofing for safety. Providing familiar comforts while ensuring easy access to necessities helps the rabbit adjust to limited mobility. Maintaining hygiene is also key.

The Exercise Regime of a Rabbit with Splayed Leg

Exercise remains important for rabbits recovering from splay leg. A customized regime should be developed based on abilities:

  • Assisted walking – Holding up rear, guide bunny to walk on front legs supporting back end. Help develop strength.

  • Passive range of motion – Gently flex and extend legs through range of motion. Build flexibility.

  • Water therapy – Standing in a shallow warm water bath stimulates circulation and muscle activity.

  • Assist devices – Encourage moving around in carts or modified wheelchairs. Reduces atrophy.

  • Massage – Use gentle strokes and passive movements to stimulate muscles and blood flow.

  • Supported stand training – Help bunny stand with sling supporting torso while bearing weight on legs.

  • Encourage foraging – Spread hay or leafy greens around pen to motivate bunny to move about naturally.

  • Playtime outdoors – Supervise time on the grass allowing natural movements if able.

Any exercise regime must be approved by vet depending on capabilities, recovery progress and cause of splay leg. Going at the rabbit's pace prevents injury. Consistency aids strengthening and function.

Grooming and Cleaning a Rabbit with Splayed Leg

Rabbits with splayed legs require some specialized grooming and hygiene considerations:

  • Brush coat frequently – Helps prevent matting and keeps coat and skin healthy. Extra attention to areas bunny can't self-groom.

  • Spot clean often – Soiled bedding harbors bacteria. Check fur and legs for urine stain.

  • Sanitize litter box – Scoop waste at least twice daily. Wash box weekly. Avoid infection.

  • Bath when needed – Shallow warm water baths to clean soiled fur but minimize frequency to prevent dry skin.

  • Dry thoroughly – Gently pat dry. Use towel-wrapped warm water bottle to speed drying.

  • Check sores – Clean any wounds/sores. Apply topical medication. Seek vet help if infected.

  • Hygiene trims – Keep fur around rear trimmed short for hygiene if bunny cannot properly groom area.

  • Paw care – Inspect feet and trim nails if overgrown. Massage limbs improve circulation.

  • Skin balm – Apply rabbit-safe moisturizing balm to dry patches if needed. Avoid leg braces rubbing.

Working cooperatively with the bunny makes grooming less stressful. Proper hygiene prevents skin issues and infections that could further impair recovery.

What is the Prognosis for a Rabbit with Splayed Leg?

The prognosis for a rabbit with splay leg depends on various factors:

  • Severity – Mild cases caught and corrected early have an excellent prognosis with full recovery and normal mobility.

  • Age – Newborns and kits have greater prospects for improvement than juvenile or adult rabbits.

  • Underlying cause – Cases due to genetics or bone/nerve issues tend to have poorer outlooks.

  • Timely treatment – Beginning treatment in the first days of life has much better prognosis over delayed therapy.

  • Response to treatment – Rabbits who respond well to splinting and physical therapy have better outcome.

  • Development of complications – Preventing pressure sores, wounds and infections improves chances.

  • Commitment to care – Dedicated athome care between therapy sessions aids healing.

While some rabbits may only achieve partial improvement, over 75% of cases caught and treated within the first week of life often make a full recovery. Early intervention maximizes the chances.

Will My Rabbit Need to Have Their Splayed Leg Amputated?

Leg amputation is a very rare last resort for rabbits with severe, chronic splay leg. Reasons it may be considered include:

  • Loss of leg function – Leg is fully paralyzed or limb damaged beyond repair.

  • Constant open sores – Wounds become severely infected or maggot infested despite all efforts.

  • Severe arthritis – Joint degeneration is intensely painful and cannot be resolved otherwise.

  • Bone deformity – Extensive distortion of bones or joints is disabling and unfixable.

  • Declining quality of life – Bunny's state is deteriorating despite extensive conservative treatment.

  • Cancer risk – Damage increases likelihood of developing bone cancer in affected limb.

  • Self-mutilation – Rabbit self-harms the limb due to loss of sensation and pain feedback.

  • Danger of fracture – Extreme deformity means bone is at high risk of fracturing, causing pain.

Amputation aims to relieve suffering when no other options exist. It is not undertaken lightly due to the risks of surgery and impact on the rabbit. Prosthetics may be an alternative to explore in some cases.

Is it Legal to Breed a Rabbit with Splay Leg?

It is generally not recommended or considered ethical to intentionally breed rabbits known to have splay leg or a history of producing kits with splay leg. Reasons it is widely discouraged include:

  • Highly heritable – Splay leg often has a strong inherited genetic component that will be passed down.

  • Suffering – Birthing litters prone to splay leg propagates animal suffering.

  • Treatment cost – New owners may not be prepared to pay for treatment needed. Rabbits may be neglected or abandoned.

  • Decreased quality of life – Even with treatment, chronic issues may impact mobility and health long-term.

  • Perpetuating deformity – Continues breeding defective traits leading to abnormality and disability.

  • Reducing gene pool diversity – Concentrates detrimental genes linked to conformation flaws.

  • Reputational damage – Breeders may be shunned for knowingly producing disabled rabbits.

  • Violates ethics – Considered morally questionable to breed animals prone to health disorders.

  • May be illegal – Some jurisdictions prohibit intentionally breeding animals likely to pass on genetic defects.

It is more responsible for breeders to carefully screen breeding stock for health and soundness first, removing any rabbits from the gene pool prone to splay leg. This protects kits from foreseeable harm.


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