Bumblefoot is the common name for a form of pododermatitis, which means inflammation of the foot. It can occur in any poultry or waterfowl and is usually only noticed on the underside of the foot when your birds go lame.
Bumblefoot is usually caused by a bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. There are usually two causes of Bumblefoot.
The first is a foot wound, allowing the bacteria to gain entry to the local tissue. Jumping down from a high perch and getting a splinter from a piece of sharp bedding material is quite a common cause.
The wound then closes over with the bacteria trapped in the foot. Due to poor blood supply to this region, there is a lower immune response because white blood cells that fight infection cannot enter the region well. When this occurs, a large hard swelling can then develop at the base of the foot.
The other common cause is that the foot is being exposed to continuous moist bedding/ranging ground. This continuous exposure damages the footpads and again allows entry of bacteria. Occasionally incorrectly shaped perches over time cause damage to the chicken’s feet.
The first sign that your bird may be suffering from a problem, unless you regularly give them the once over, will be a chicken walking slightly oddly or obviously lame.
When examining the leg and foot there can often be no signs of abnormality or there can be an obvious round lesion located on the base of the foot (footpad). The foot may or may not been inflamed and hot to the touch compared to other scaled areas.
There are two possible treatment pathways for chickens suffering from Bumblefoot. The first is conservative treatment, and this is generally advised when there is only a small swelling or just a suspicion of Bumblefoot.
1. Conservative treatment
Conservative treatment generally involves washing the foot daily with some form of antiseptic solution; often back yard owners may have a source of iodine; if watered down to the appropriate dose, you may use this.
Remember to dry the foot thoroughly afterwards; if the bird is then to be kept in a dry coop, then no bandaging is necessary; if however, the foot is likely to get wet and dirty again, we can use a soft bandage wrapped around the foot with a waterproof covering.
I would advise doing this for about 5 days. If there is no improvement or the swelling increases, then the second treatment option is probably needed.
Remember to change the bandage daily and not do it too tightly, as this can cut off blood circulation to the foot and cause more damage than it saves. This treatment method can also be combined with a course of antibiotics or course a vet will need to see the bird before any are given out.
2. Professional treatment
The second treatment will need a professional diagnosis by a poultry vet before using it. This treatment method is usually used for situations where the swelling is too large to initiate conservative methods or where conservative methods have failed.
The first step your vet is likely to take is to give the bird an injection of antibiotics and pain relief/anti-inflammatory drugs.
Hopefully, the antibiotics will help fight the infection concealed deep within the tissues. The anti-inflammatory drug is used to help reduce inflammation in the area that may harm healing, and this disease can be excruciating. Reducing the pain is one of the top aims of the vet in this situation.
The next step (unless the individual bird and situation suggest otherwise) is to give the bird a local anaesthetic drug to numb the foot. Once numb, the swelling is incised, and often there is a capsule of thick cream cheese-like pus found.
This is removed, and often, the capsule encasing it as well. Further investigation of the tissue is performed; once the vet is happy, there is unlikely to be any more pus in the area the incisions site is cleaned and closed using sutures; if it’s a small incision, the vet may leave this to close naturally. The foot is then bandaged in the same manner as described above. Your vet will then advise how often the bandage needs changing and when to come back for a check-up.
Always remember with either of the treatments above or a combination of treatments, there is, unfortunately, a higher than wanted level of failure due to the nature of the disease; if the case is very complicated, it may be the bird may never recover and other options will need to be discussed with your vet if that situation arises.
As always, prevention is better than cure, and there are three main area’s to help minimise the likelihood of Bumblefoot forming. The first is to make sure there are plenty of perches and appropriate dimensions; this includes making sure they are not to small that the birds have to curl their feet around them, and the second is to make sure the perches have rounded edges so that they don’t dig into the bird’s feet, this can create pressure sores and allow bacteria to gain entry.
The second method or prevention is to reduce the amount of wet litter or flooring and make sure you do not allow a build-up mud that your birds will stand in for extended periods of time, obviously in a really wet winter like the one we are currently in trying to keep everything dry and mud-free can be impossible if your flock is free-ranging or on a permanent area of ground.
However, making sure the litter within the shed is dry and providing a covered area outside with dry flooring so that your birds may escape the wet, muddy conditions around them will be very beneficial. If chickens spend too much time in wet, muddy conditions, their feet sometimes soften and are then more prone to wounds, allowing bacteria to gain entry, causing Bumblefoot.
The final main prevention method is preventing your birds from getting wounds to their feet. So making sure no sharp objects are lying around, such as nails or wire and making sure your birds cannot trap their feet anywhere, such as broken floorboards or fences. If, however, your birds get a wound, then quick action, including cleaning the wound with an antiseptic solution and bandaging and keeping the foot dry, will hopefully prevent the development of Bumblefoot.