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Avian Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a potentially serious bacterial skin infection. It can occur in almost any area of the chicken's body, but most often affects the skin on their legs, abdomen, or breast. The skin will appear swollen or puffy, red, and warm to the touch. If it is affecting the legs, the bird may be reluctant to or have difficulty walking.

Birds often have a history of recent trauma. As most cases of cellulitis involve previous disruption of the integrity of the skin, such as an abrasion or open wound, providing a path for bacteria to enter the body and colonize the subcutaneous tissue.

The infection is most often caused by avian pathogenic Escherichia coli (APEC) (a particular strain of E. coli that causes systemic disease in poultry in the form of avian colibacillosis). Other bacterial agents which can also cause cellulitis in chickens include Pasteurella multocida, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Enterobacter agglomerans, Proteus vulgaris and Streptococcus dysgalactiae.

Clinical Signs

Feels warm to touch


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Lab testing


Supportive careIsolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (your own chicken "intensive care unit") with easy access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.



  • Supplementing diet with Vitamin E at 300 mg/kg or Vitamin A at 60,000 IU/kg
  • Don't overcrowd birds
  • Use shavings instead of straw for bedding
  • Provide birds with an enriched environment to decrease chances of feather pecking and cannibalism among flock members.

Scientific References

Age Range

Older male chickens are more likely to develop coliform cellulitis.

Risk Factors

  • History of recent skin trauma, especially scratches, provides the main site of entry into the chicken
  • Poor feather cover
  • Overcrowded conditions
  • Increased relative humidity
  • High energy feed
  • Using straw for bedding litter - associated with 2.8 times more likely to obtain coliform cellulitis than flocks with shavings
  • 'Meat type' breeds such as broiler chickens are more susceptible
  • Stress