Bumblefoot, also known as footpad dermatitis or pododermatitis refers to any inflammatory or degenerative condition of the chicken's foot. It occurs commonly in birds kept in captivity. If bumblefoot is recognized during the early stages, it is relatively easy to treat. Often all that's needed is simple management and environmental modifications.
The severity of bumblefoot is graded using a 5-point scale and is usually related to whether or not there is an established infection present. Once an infection is established, the disease quickly becomes progressive and degenerative. It is a common problem for any birds kept in captivity and is similar to pressure ulcers or bed sores in humans.
Bumblefoot is caused by a constant, uneven, or excessive pressure exerted on the bottom of the bird's foot, combined with conditions which lead to the breakdown in the outer skin barrier of the foot. The compromised skin layer allows whatever bacterial organisms present in the environment of the bird to invade the inner tissues of the foot. Staphylococcus aureus
is the bacteria most often isolated from bumblefoot lesions in chickens. Others include Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Klebsiella sp., Clostridium sp., Corynebacterium sp., Nocardia sp., Actinomyces sp., Streptococcus sp., E. coli, Proteus sp.,
and Pasteurella spp.,
Signs of bumblefoot in chickens
During the early stages of bumblefoot, it may initially appear as a small, superficial lesion, rough abrasion, or mild discoloring of the foot. However, once there is a breakdown in the skin barrier, it provides a direct opening for opportunistic bacteria to enter and cause infection. Once the foot is infected, chickens may often begin to show slight behavioral changes (associated with onset of pain caused by the infection), and varying degrees of lameness.
- Grade 1: Loss of definition of the epidermis (seen as a shiny, reddened surface or small lesion), with no apparent underlying infection.
- Grade 2: Infection of underlying tissues in direct contact with the surface lesion with no gross swelling.
- Grade 3: Abscess state; infection with serous or caseous fluid draining from a fibrotic lesion.
- grade 4: Infection with swelling of underlying tissues involving deep vital structures. Usually a chronic wound at this stage, which may or may not be concurrently causing tenosynovitis, arthritis, and/or osteomyelitis.
- Grade 5: Crippling deformity and loss of function.
Diagnosis of Bumblefoot
Diagnosis is based on history, clinical signs and physical examination. If in the later stages, radiographs might be needed to evaluate whether the infection has spread to the bone.
Bumblefoot treatment in chickens
Treatment of bumblefoot varies depending on the severity and the cause.
Early stages are much easier to treat, and may only even require simple changes to the environment and/or management practices. If infection is present (which is usually the case when there is any ulceration, swelling, and/or inflammation present), then surgical debridement, post-surgical care, and antibiotics are usually necessary.
Post-surgical care consists of bandage and wound management, supportive care and maintaining a very clean environment for healing. Often, irrigation of the wound is necessary with sterile saline or 0.5% chlorhexidine, and protective ball bandaging or application of a custom-made polypropylene foam shoe.
- Environmental modifications: Modification of environment or management practices.
- Foot soaks: Soaking the foot in warm water with or without Epsom salts or chlorhexidine solution helps to soften the hardened, proliferative, scabbed tissue as well as using keratin-softening agents.
- Bandaging: Bandaging the foot with colloidal dressings or medical honey or similar product until it is completely healed also helps keep the area clean and moist to encourage healing. A variety of bandages have been described such as “ball” in which the foot is bandaged into a ball, a “snowshoe” in which the bandage is flat bottomed to disperse the weight over a larger surface area, or a bandage that puts no weight on the bottom of the foot by strapping a U-shaped bar to the leg or making a donut with a pool noodle or other material. Changing the bandage frequently to keep it clean and dry is necessary.
- Debridement surgery, only performed by your veterinarian.
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics are best selected based on culture (both aerobic and anaerobic) of the wound and antibiotic sensitivity results, to ensure compatibility. The most commonly used antibiotics include cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones, lincomycin, and clindamycin. If osteomyelitis is present, then enrofloxacin and chloramphenicol are often good choices.