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Bumblefoot

Pododermatitis, Foot Pad Dermatitis, Paw Burns, Foot Pad Ulcers

Bumblefoot, a term used to describe a condition known as plantar pododermatitis (inflammation of the foot), is a common cause of pain and lameness in chickens. Bumblefoot was named after the "bumble-like" appearance of the sores during the more advanced stages of the infection. Bumblefoot in birds is similar to what diabetic foot ulcers are for humans. Once a foot infection becomes established (or chronic), it can become very difficult to reverse. Prevention, early recognition, and early treatment are key when it comes to managing bumblefoot. Bumblefoot results from several contributing factors.
Bumblefoot contributing factors in chickens
This includes any existing foot deformity, being overweight, trauma, poor circulation, irritation (such as excessive friction or pressure), exposure to rough or inappropriate surface used for flooring, excessive moisture, poor sanitation, too much or too little activity, nail overgrowth, jumping down from perches that are placed too high, perching on roosts that are inappropriate for chickens, and malnutrition (imbalanced diet, poor quality feed, or vitamin deficiencies).

What Bumblefoot Looks like


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 (often Staphylococcus aureus) 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. If left untreated or not treated appropriately, the infection often becomes chronic and progressive, eventually spreading into the underlying bones, tendons and joints and resulting in osteomyelitis, tenosynovitis, septicemia, and arthritis. The only way for your veterinarian to know whether the infection may have spread into the bone is by taking radiographs of the feet.

When to Schedule an Appointment with your Veterinarian


Initially, if it is a relatively mild or early stage bumblefoot, daily Epsom salt soakings, bandage management, nutritional support, and strict sanitation of the environment to ensure the chicken's foot stays clean and dry may be sufficient. However, if after 1-2 weeks you see no improvement or it gets worse, then you need to schedule an appointment with you vet as debridement of the wound and antibiotics for the infection may be necessary. Because this procedure can be very painful for the animal, for humane reasons, we really encourage that only veterinarians that have a Doctorate in Veterinary medicine or equivalent, perform this procedure. If cost is a concern, seek a nearby teaching hospital, small animal clinic, or large animal vet who may be willing to perform the surgery on your chicken.

How is Bumblefoot Treated?


The primary goal in the treatment of bumblefoot is to obtain healing as soon as possible. The faster the healing, the less chance for an infection. There are several key factors involved in the appropriate treatment of bumblefoot:
  • Preventing infection: It is really important to keep the foot as clean and dry as possible, to prevent contamination with bacteria and other foreign organisms. This is where daily bandaging is important, hospitalization (in some cases may be indicated), and strict sanitation.
  • Debridement of dead tissue: This is usually necessary in cases of moderate to severe bumblefoot; which is when a necrotic plug of tissue is present within the ulcer. This process will better promote healing of the ulcer.
  • Bandage management: Appropriate bandage management methods for bumblefoot include the use of dressings and topically-applied medications to the foot.
  • Nutritional evaluation of diet: Evaluate your bird's diet and correct any possible nutrient deficiencies. Some additional vitamins, especially vitamin A can be helpful.
  • Management changes: In order to prevent the bumblefoot from becoming reinfected, it is a good idea to try to understand why your chicken developed bumblefoot. Reevaluate how flock members get along with one another (is one chicken getting excessively chased or mated with?), their environment (are they constantly stepping in feces or is the bedding always wet?), diet (are they able to get plenty of green forage or is their feed stale?), their health status (do they have an existing illness or intestinal parasites?).

Symptoms

Skin changes (shiny, peeling, flaking, color, texture)
Ulceration
Translucent
Necrotic plug in ulcer
Cellulitis
Lameness (limping)
Reluctance to move
Loss of appetite
Depression
Behavioral changes
Swelling

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Radiographs - May be needed to verify whether the infection has spread to the bone.
  • Culture & Sensitivity - for selection of antibiotics.
  • Thermography

Treatment

MethodDetails
ENVIRONMENTAL MODIFICATIONS
Fix the causeClean coop daily, eliminate excess moisture in bedding, modify perches to be appropriate (if needed), increase the size of the outdoor enclosure so birds have more space to exercise and perform natural foraging activities.
Install soft surfacesUse natural grass, butyl, rubber mats, small pebbles, etc. anything that is able to aid in relieving pressure off of the foot.
EARLY STAGE CARE
Local antiseptic cleaning and bandagingIf there are no indications that the wound is getting any better, consult with your veterinarian, as surgical debridement may be needed.
Preparation HCan be used alone or mixed with DMSO (30 ml), dexamethasone (2 mg), and chloromycetin succinate (200 mg)
Fusidate sodiumApplied topically as a 2% ointmentK Marx
MODERATE TO SEVERE STAGE CARE
SurgerySurgical debridement and drainage of the pus from deep tissue abscesses are needed, followed by antibiotics, and daily bandaging.This procedure should only be performed by a veterinarian. The cost for this surgery is very affordable, and for humane reasons, should only be performed by a professional. Review our poultry veterinarian directory to find a veterinarian closest to you..
Supportive
Vitamin ALess than 20 KIU/kg administered IM.
To help promote appetite, digestion, and increase resistance to infection
S Poorbaghi et al., 2011
Acupuncture sessionsAfter eight acupuncture sessions, a bald eagle showed a drastic improvement in lameness score (decreased from Score 5 to Score 0-1) and a full recovery from bumblefoot lesions.K Hwa Choi., 2016
Photodynamic therapyProved to be an effective therapy for the treatment of penguins with stage III bumblefoot.Nascimento CL et al., 2015

Prevention

  • Maintain a sanitary environment for birds to live in
  • Provide soft and even floor substrate
  • Design outdoor runs with proper drainage to prevent flooding and mud accumulation
  • Feed a balanced diet

Prognosis

Birds with mild, early-stage bumblefoot have a good prognosis if treated promptly and aggressively.

Scientific References

Good Overviews

Blogs

Risk Factors

  • Previous foot or leg injury
  • Hard, muddy, flooded, uneven or rough floor surfaces
  • Damp or unsanitary bedding litter
  • Vitamin A deficiency
  • Overweight
  • Excessively dry skin
  • Lack of activity
  • Excessive activity due to fighting among flock members or guarding behavior
  • Leg or conformation abnormality
  • Improperly designed perches (plastic, sharp-corners, or not wide enough)
  • Excessive accumulation of feces
  • Poor diet
  • Overgrown toe nails