Splay Leg in Rabbits

Splay leg

Splay leg, a developmental musculoskeletal condition, may be seen in young rabbits ranging in age from a few days to a few months or in sedentary senior rabbits. The condition may be related to housing on smooth, slippery flooring that results in the inability to pull the legs in under the body and the subsequent inability to walk effectively. With time the joint conformation changes and the legs stick out from the body, a condition known as splay leg.

The degree of splaying may be relatively mild, allowing some clumsy movement, or so severe that the animal is completely unable to walk. The hind limb anatomy is more commonly affected in juvenile rabbits, and the front limbs more commonly in our senior rabbits. If diagnosed early in young, growing rabbits a veterinarian may be able to reverse the splay deformity through splinting and hobbling of affected limbs into a more appropriate anatomical position. Success requires frequent splint changes and anatomical assessment along with improved traction of bedding or flooring. Because this condition may also have a genetic component in a simple autosomal recessive pattern, breeding from the affected animal and its parents should be discouraged.

Abduction or splaying of the front limbs is the more common form in sedentary senior rabbits. This may occur as the result of inactivity and resulting muscle wasting so that over time the front limbs are not adducted under the body and splay out. Obesity and osteoarthritis probably contribute to this condition and once started is hard to reverse. Prevention or diminishing progression involves trying to improve muscle tone through increased activity, housing on a surface that allows for firm footing, and treating any underlying predisposing conditions.