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Avian Cellulitis

Other Names: Cellulitis, Coliform Cellulitis

Avian cellulitis is a serious bacterial infection involving the deeper layers of skin and the fat and soft tissue underneath. Most cases are caused by Escherichia coli as the sole bacteria isolated. However, other bacteria such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Proteus vulgaris, Enterobacter agglomerans, Pasteurella multocida, Streptococcus dysgalactiae, Aeromonas, Staphylococcus aureus, and/or Actinomyces pyogenes can also be involved.

Avian cellulitis usually occurs in the abdomen and legs. It is a common welfare problem in broiler flocks raised in unsanitary conditions. The skin will appear swollen or puffy, reddened, and warm to the touch. If it affects the legs and feet, the bird may be reluctant to move or have difficulty walking.

Chickens with avian cellulitis often have a history of recent skin trauma, such as an abrasions, open wounds, and scratches-which provide a pathway for bacteria to enter the body and colonize the subcutaneous tissue.

Clinical Signs

Swelling
Redness
Warmth

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Lab testing

Reported Cases

  • Case 1: Regional limb perfusion with intravenous antibiotics for Ten in a Rooster A 2-year-old Rhode Island red rooster was examined for lameness and progressive swelling of the right foot of several month's duration. Radiographs of the right foot demonstrated soft tissue swelling and a smoothly marginated periosteal reaction evident of inflammation affecting the bones. Results of a complete blood count showed a moderate leukocytosis and an elevated total protein concentration. Systemic antibiotic and anti-inflammatory therapy was started, but the bird had not improved at recheck examination. After intravenous catheterization of the medial metatarsal vein and placing a tourniquet at the femoral-tibiotarsal joint of the right leg, regional limb perfusion with amikacin and flunixin meglumine was performed. Dimensions of both feet were measured with digital calipers, and surface temperatures of the feet were measured with an infrared thermometer. The rooster had improved activity level with decrease in lameness and measurable decrease in swelling of the right foot. Regional limb perfusion with intravenous antibiotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is a viable treatment modality in avian species for suspected distal limb infection and cellulitis. Ref

  • Case 2: Facial nodular cellulitis in a Chickens Twelve 11 and 12-week-old broiler breeder pullets from two farms were submitted to the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL) in Center, Texas for a diagnostic evaluation. The birds were submitted with a clinical history of having bumps on the face. Upon clinical examination, the birds exhibited nodular protuberances, approximately 1 cm in length, on the face, close to the beak commissure, above the upper eyelid, and wattles. Those nodules contained a moderate accumulation of either fluid or caseous yellow exudate that was sometimes hemorrhagic. Staphylococcus aureus in pure culture was isolated in moderate and large numbers from five of six nodules cultured. The histopathological examination revealed fibrinonecrotizing granulomatous cellulitis associated with large numbers of cocci-shaped bacteria, which is consistent with S. aureus infection. Ref

Treatment

NameSummary
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.
Antibiotics

Support

Prevention

  • Reduce risk of skin trauma
  • Supplementing diet with Vitamin E at 300 mg/kg or Vitamin A at 60,000 IU/kg
  • Don't overcrowd birds
  • Provide chickens with an enriched environment to decrease chances of feather pecking due to boredom.

Scientific References

Age Range

Older male chickens are more likely to develop coliform cellulitis.

Risk Factors

  • History of recent skin trauma.
  • Poor feather cover
  • Overcrowded conditions
  • Increased relative humidity
  • High energy feed
  • Using straw for bedding litter.
  • 'Meat type' breeds such as broiler chickens are more susceptible
  • Stress