Lively and hardy, chickens are a welcome addition to the backyard or farm. They are also mostly self-sufficient, except for when it comes to certain complications. Chickens are susceptible to many physical maladies, including a condition known as bumblefoot. What is bumblefoot and how do you treat it? Today, those questions and more will be answered. Let’s get started.
What is Bumblefoot?
Bumblefoot has many names. Technically, it is called pododermatitis, but you may also see or hear the condition referred to as paw burns, foot pad dermatitis, and foot pad ulcers. Pododermatitis is an inflammatory bacterial infection that affects the padding of a chicken’s foot. Dogs, cats, and even livestock can contract bumblefoot, especially in places like farms.
Bumblefoot is most often seen as a pus-filled abscess that is hard to the touch and covered by a black or brown scab. There will also be some swelling, redness, and heat, depending on the severity of the infection involved. As bumblefoot worsens, your chicken may limp or appear lame.
The good news is that bumblefoot is fairly easy to treat when caught in the earlier stages.
The Five Grades of Bumblefoot
Bumblefoot goes through recognizable stages as it worsens. Here are each of the phases:
- Grade 1: The initial infection. During this time, changes are barely noticeable and may be overlooked. The only sign is a small lesion or a shiny surface on the bottom of the foot.
- Grade 2: There may be some swelling or an open wound visible on the foot, but an abscess has yet to form. Again, this stage is often missed by chicken keepers.
- Grade 3: During this stage, the infection has spread enough to develop the brown or black scab. Puss is beginning to fill the area, and the foot will look a bit swollen. It may also be hot to the touch.
- Grade 4: Due to lack of treatment, the systemic effects of the infection have spread. The chicken is in visible pain and discomfort now.
- Grade 5: Once bumblefoot reaches the fifth grade of severity, the chicken will be suffering and unable to move. If they do walk around, it is with a pronounced limp. The foot will appear deformed, potentially even after treatment.
What Causes Bumblefoot?
The immediate cause of bumblefoot is typically one of three strains of bacteria: Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus pseudomonas, and Escherichia coli (E.coli). Often, a chicken will become infected from a splinter or cut on the bottom of the foot while walking around the coop or yard. Since chickens often walk through feces and other germ-covered areas, it is easy for them to pick up bacteria.
Bacteria enter the body through the small wound then begin to proliferate. This begins to cause swelling, tenderness, and redness.
However, there are some other reasons chickens can develop bumblefoot, including;
- Overgrown toe nails. Chickens require toe nail maintenance, otherwise their talons will get too long. Sometimes, this interferes with their ability to perch and walk around, but it can also cause foot pain and minor injuries.
- Bullying. When a chicken is low on the totem pole, they are more likely to be injured throughout the day. Plus, they are more likely to run and jump and put pressure on their feet when fleeing.
- Foot or leg deformities. Any deformities will put pressure on the foot, increasing the chance of bumblefoot.
- Imbalanced diet or malnutrition. Without proper nutrition, chickens suffer from dry, cracked skin. Without a healthy barrier and strong immune system, bacteria can enter through their feet easily.
- Heavy weight. The more weight the bird is carrying, the more pressure exerted on their feet. Bigger breeds are at a higher risk of bumblefoot.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Bumblefoot in Chickens
Bumblefoot, as the name states, affects the feet. Therefore, the initial stages are difficult to spot. Even if you examine your chicken’s feet, you may see nothing pointing to the earliest stages of pododermatitis.
Early detection usually happens when you notice your chicken hopping or limping around. They favor one side of their body. You may spot some swollen tissue on the hurt foot, which is one of the main indicators of a staph infection. However, inflammation can also hint to other medical conditions.
Be sure to pay close attention to the behaviors of your chickens during this time, as changes in their routine or behavior is also a sign of bumblefoot.
Bumblefoot quickly manifests as a boil on the surface of the foot. You may notice a large bubble of skin in between a chicken’s toes. The abscess is filled with pus. If you see a black scab, it means the infection is progressing and becoming more severe.
How to Treat Bumblefoot in Chickens
Treating bumblefoot at home does not require a trip to the vet. However, if you are nervous or unsure about the process, it may help to have some professional assistance. Early stages of bumblefoot are easier to treat, since you do not need to worry about surgery. If the infection has led to an abscess and inflammation, then surgery and antibiotics are necessary.
Here are some methods for treating bumblefoot, depending on the severity of the case:
- Modifying the environment. This includes reorganizing the environment to eliminate pressure on your chicken’s feet, as well as any dangers. You may also want to separate the hurt chicken from the rest of the group. Clean up mud, decrease the amount of feces, and add Astroturf to perches to protect your chickens’ feet.
- Soaking the foot. With some warm water, Epsom salt, or chlorhexidine, you can start treating bumblefoot. The warm water and Epsom salt will soften the tissues and maybe open the abscess, allowing it to drain.
- Bandaging the affected foot. Using colloidal dressings, you can wrap the foot to encourage healing. You can either use the ball or snowshoe bandaging style for your chicken. With the ball bandaging method, you wrap the foot so that the bandage forms a circle. Snowshoe bandaging is when the bandage is flat on the bottom, dispersing the weight. A U-shaped donut (such as from a pool noodle) is then attached to the foot to limit pressure.
- Antibiotics. Depending on a bacterial culture, your vet may prescribe an antibiotic to deal with the infection. Common choices include clindamycin, lincomycin, cephalosporins, and fluoroquinolones.
- Debridement surgery. A debridement can only be done by a veterinarian and involves lancing the abscess then draining out the pus. Afterwards, your chicken is often fitted with a protective shoe and given antibiotics.
How to Prevent Bumblefoot
The best way to deal with bumblefoot is to prevent it from happening in the first place. There are many preventative measures you can take around the coop and yard to ensure that your chickens stay happy and healthy. Here are some tips on how to prevent bumblefoot:
Maintain a Clean Coop
Since bumblefoot is caused by bacteria, you can reduce the risk of such an infection by maintaining a clean environment. Regularly cleaning out the coop cuts down on bacterial growth. Make sure you have a well-ventilated and routinely maintained coop. Clean out all fecal matter daily, because the more poop there is on the floor, the greater chance of bacteria getting spread around.
Provide a Comfortable Home
Aside from cleaning the coop and backyard regularly, you also want to ensure that your chickens are safe from harm. Danger is not just from predators. Sometimes splintered wood and debris on the ground poses just as much of a risk to your chickens. You can make your chickens more comfortable, for example, by covering the coop’s floor with sand, which is less abrasive than cedar chips. Add in some diatomaceous earth, too, since that cuts down on parasites and insects.
This isn’t just about providing your chickens with plenty of opportunities for dust baths. Whenever your chickens molt, sweep up the feathers. Discarded feathers can be a safe haven for bacteria, increasing the likelihood of bumblefoot. Plus, some of the quills are very sharp and can puncture a chicken’s foot. Overgrown talons can also pose a risk, since debris can get between the nail and skin.
Plenty of Exercise
Heavy chickens are prone to bumblefoot, because they put too much pressure on their feet. Since overweight chickens need to be extra cautious about where they place their weight, they are at a greater risk for swelling and bruising.
A Nutritious Diet
Yes, diet is everything when it comes to chickens. Nutrition ensures that your chickens have strong, healthy skin and feathers. Additionally, healthy diets prevent weight gain in chickens.
Regular Vet Check-Ups
Keeping your chickens free of bumblefoot also means checking up on their health. By proactively checking your chickens’ feet, you may find abrasions and cuts long before they become infected. Similarly, take your chickens to a veterinarian throughout the year, since a professional may catch issues you accidentally overlooked.
Stay Down To Earth
One mistake that new chicken keepers make is building perches that are too far off the ground. Remember, bumblefoot can also be caused by pressure exerted against the foot. If your chickens have to continuously jump from a too-high roost, they could get hurt. Therefore, make sure your roosting perches in the coop are set to the appropriate height.
No more bumbling about! Bumblefoot sounds silly, but it can be a dangerous bacterial infection for a chicken to develop. Hopefully, you now know enough about how to treat bumblefoot. If you see your chicken limping around or with a swollen foot, do not take any chances. The longer you wait to deal with bumblefoot, the harder it will be for your chicken to bounce back.
Valerie has been content writing since 2016 for websites and companies all around the world. A traveler, dancer, martial artist, Valerie loves gathering experiences and wisdom. Her travels have taken her to over 20 countries, and she hopes to see more of the world soon.