What is splay leg?
Splay leg is a developmental disease in rabbits, where they lack the ability to adduct (draw toward their body) one or multiple limbs. This can be congenital, or due to trauma on slippery floors (re falling over or overextension of limbs).
A rabbit will come into the clinic (usually quite young) with loss of function in one or more limbs, with no known history of trauma. And possibly, no pain.
They will be dragging a leg out beside or behind them, which can quickly lead to accidental trauma and injury.
Not to mention that constant dragging of the limb will further weaken and damage the affected joint – either the hip or shoulder.
Before you jump to a diagnosis, some differentials to rule out include spinal trauma/injury, Encephalitozoon cuniculi and limb fractures.
Clinical presentation and lack of limb function are usually quite diagnostic. This can be definitively confirmed with diagnostic imaging, ie radiographs or if available (and willing) CT.
Either manage the problem with supportive care, lush padded indoor environments and or amputate affected limbs (though keep in mind this will only really work for ONE affected limb).
Rabbits can cope quite well with only three legs – however having less limbs will affect mobility, posture and grooming. So they really become only indoor rabbits with the necessity for very cushioned hutches and indoor living. This will mean low entry points to hutches and litter trays, as well as feeding and drinking areas. You can also roll up towels around the hutch or rabbit enclosure to make sure that if they fall, they fall on nice, cushy towel.
You may also notice areas of poor grooming – so you may need to assist your rabbit in grooming or washing more often than normal.
Without amputation, keep in mind these joints are malformed, and non functional, and thus most likely painful. Meloxicam can be your friend here too, as can joint supplements or other forms of chronic pain relief. In some early cases bracing can be helpful too.
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