Rabbit paws are pretty special. As well as being soft and adorable, they help the rabbit move quickly through rough terrain.
You probably think you have a pretty good idea of what the rabbit’s foot looks like. Soft and fluffy on the top, with little pink paw pads on the underside. If this is what you’re picturing, you might be surprised to learn you’re wrong. Rabbits actually don’t have paw pads.
The lack of paw pads makes rabbits fairly unique within the animal kingdom. Without paw pads, coarse hairs make the rabbit’s paw built for strength. But a lack of paw pads can have some disadvantages. In this guide, we tell you everything you need to know about the rabbit’s paw.
What are paw pads?
Paw pads are the soft and spongy part on the underside of the foot. Pigmented and hairless, they provide an important role in supporting the smooth movement of almost all mammals.
Paw pads consist of collagenous and adipose tissue, found beneath a layer of keratinized skin. There are 3 main parts to the paw pad:
- The digital pads, located just below each toe. Holds the front load.
- The metacarpal pad, which forms the center of the paw. Holds the bulk of the weight.
- The carpal pad, which isn’t present in all mammals, and is found partway down the paw. For animals that walk on their toes, this helps when stopping or descending.
As they’re filled with fatty tissue, one of the primary functions of the paw pad is in absorbing the weight of the mammal. As the animal moves, they rest their weight on the paw. Paw pads help to balance out that load, so they can move comfortably.
The soft layer of the paw pad also helps to protect the feet against rough terrain, which allows them to gain traction when moving through wild environments.
Paw pads are also what help animals, such as cats, walk so sneakily. The cushioned paw pad produces little noise, allowing a cat to sneak up on its prey.
Why don’t rabbits have paw pads?
Paw pads serve an incredibly useful function, so you might assume that rabbits have them. However, rabbits have actually evolved to not need paw pads. That doesn’t mean their feet are unprotected. Instead, they’re covered in a layer of thick fur. In a way, this fur acts similarly to the fatty tissue of the paw pad.
Where other animals use their paw pads to provide them with speed, the rabbit’s lack of paw pad is thought to have an advantage for endurance and strength. The coarse hair that’s found on the paw has developed to allow the robust movement of the rabbit.
Although rabbits don’t need paw pads, the lack of them can lead to problems, particularly in domesticated rabbits. Without paw pads, rabbits are prone to sore hocks.
Sore hocks, otherwise known as ulcerative pododermatitis, is a painful problem that many rabbits suffer from. This occurs when the foot has become inflamed and raw. For the rabbit, it can be incredibly painful.
Sore hocks tend to occur when the rabbit’s paw is being subjected to friction. The feet bear the load when a rabbit moves, and if they’re travelling over rough terrain, that can put immense pressure on specific areas of the paw. As this friction builds, the coarse hair of the paw gets rubbed away. The now exposed skin is at risk of becoming inflamed.
If sore hock isn’t treated, it can lead to serious issues for the rabbit. First, it’s incredibly painful. Rabbits suffering from sore hock will often stop moving, because they don’t want to hurt themselves.
Second, the inflamed paw can lead to infection. The floor of a hutch, no matter how well we keep it clean, is often littered with bacteria from fecal matter and urine. An open sore hock can become infected, which is incredibly dangerous.
One of the reasons this issue is so common is because people expect to see paw pads on a rabbit. When pink patches appear, they assume it’s just part of the foot. However, exposed skin on a bunny is dangerous. Anything resembling a paw pad should be checked by a vet.
How to protect your rabbits paws
As an owner, it’s important to stay aware of the risk of sore hocks. If one should occur, it needs to be treated immediately. If you suspect your rabbit has a sore hock, you must speak to a vet.
To avoid sore hock, there are a few things to do:
- Recognize the symptoms of sore hock. First, you may notice that the foot has begun to lose it’s fur, or that there may be bald patches. Next, the area will become pink and inflamed. Finally, when a sore hock has developed, the skin will appear raw.
- Learn to recognize behavior related to sore hock. A bunny with painful paws will often avoid movement, to not put pressure on the foot.
- Understand the causes of sore hock. Improper flooring, obesity, and skeletal issues can all lead to sore hock.
To protect against sore hock, there are the steps you need to take:
- Use soft flooring in the rabbit’s hutch. Never use mesh flooring, or cage flooring. This is very painful on their feet. Use soft and absorbent litter, add padding, and keep the hutch clean and dry.
- Let your rabbit run around outside. They’re paws are designed for the great outdoors. Let them run in the natural environment for a few hours a day. This movement can also prevent sore hock from developing.
- Feed them a good diet. Obesity can lead to sore hock, because it puts extra pressure on the foot. Feed your rabbit well, and let them exercise.
- Check their feet. If you see signs of inflammation, contact a vet.
Rabbit paws are incredible things, well adapted for a life running through the fields. But without paw pads, pet rabbits need some extra love and attention. Be sure to treat them right, and your bunny will keep hopping all over the place.