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What is bumblefoot and how do you treat it?

Chicken health

Bumblefoot is the term used to describe an infection on a chicken’s foot; it is referred to as “plantar pododermatitis” by medical professionals. Bumblefoot is characterised by swelling, sometimes redness, and often a black or brown scab on the bottom of the foot. 

Healthy chicken feet are for the most part smooth and soft with a rubbery feel. While scales do cover the tops of a chicken’s toes, their feet are still soft. Despite this soft exterior, a chicken’s foot is actually made up of sixteen bones that work together and flex for superior balance and movement. Generally, chickens have three forward-facing toes and one hind toe for extra balancing stamina, with the exception of breeds like Silkies, Dorkings, and Faverolles which have four forward-facing toes. 

While bumblefoot begins on the surface, it can quickly spread to muscle and bone tissue, and if left untreated, the infection can lead to death.   

Most commonly, bumblefoot on chickens is caused by a staph infection. The bacteria staphylococcus is prevalent inside a backyard chicken coop, as most coops are messy and filled with excrement. For the most part, bumblefoot is easily preventable and simply requires dedication and proper care. 

How do chicken’s get bumblefoot?

Bumblefoot results when the skin of the foot is compromised in some way, allowing bacteria to invade the foot, causing infection. Broken skin allows bacteria (e.g. staphylococcus) to get into the foot, which leads to a pus-filled abscess. 

Some of the common ways chicken’s will hurt their feet are:

  • Splinters
  • Sharp wire ends
  • Jumping repeatedly from a perch (heavier breeds are at a higher risk doing this)
  • Skin irritation caused by poor litter management

What are the signs and symptoms of bumblefoot?

Because Bumblefoot mimics a typical foot or leg strain or injury, one of the first signs of this condition is limping. Chickens that have Bumblefoot will limp and sit or rest more often than usual to avoid pain.  Chooks may not want to roost and opt for sleeping on the ground instead. Another telltale sign is swelling of the joints in the toes and foot in general.

If you have a chicken displaying the symptoms of a foot injury, you will need to examine the foot for signs of bumblefoot. 

Bumblefoot manifests itself in the form of a nasty welt or boil on the surface of the skin. The early warning signs of bumblefoot are hard puffy scabs that may look like small blisters.

Sometimes bumblefoot is caused by a piece of debris like a splinter, and when this is the case, the piece of debris will need to come out. The boil on the surface of the skin will be filled with pus and will likely require draining. Sometimes the infected area can harden or become a black scab, which indicates that the infection is getting worse. 

It is important to examine and treat any foot injury in chickens, as injuries that become infected or do not heal properly are the most common cause of bumblefoot.

How to treat bumblefoot

Before any medical action can be taken, you must first correctly identify that the issue is, in fact, bumblefoot. Here are a few of the initial symptoms that point to bumblefoot being the source of foot pain for your chicken:

  • A wound or abrasion on the bottom of the foot 
  • Something caught underneath a claw/toenail
  • Rough, red skin in between the toes
  • Mild inflammation or swelling of the leg or affected area

If you discover a bumblefoot infection beginning in one or more of your chooks, don’t be alarmed. The beginning stages of this infection can be easily treated. Simply fill a basin with warm water and epsom salts and soak the infected foot. Gently dry the foot completely and slather on honey, which acts as an antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic all in one, or spray with Cetrigen, or buffered iodine, cover with gauze and wrap with vetwrap to secure the bandage and keep chicken beaks away. Redress every day until healed.

Tip: Check out our First Aid Kit which includes all of these products, and more.

In more severe cases of bumblefoot, it may be necessary to remove the diseased tissue from the bird’s foot. If this is not done, the chicken may die. 

We recommend seeking veterinary attention for advanced cases of bumblefoot. 

If you don’t have access to veterinary services, you can perform emergency surgery at home. Essentially, after softening the infection, use a scalpel or biopsy punch to cut out the scab and remove the underlying infected core (which may or may not have become hardened). Sometimes this core is attached to the scab making it a bit easier to remove. Then, drain any pus and treat the wound as stated above. If you do choose to take the surgery route, check youtube for walk-through videos. I don’t want to insert them here as it can be a bit graphic.

How to prevent bumblefoot

Preventative measures like cleanliness, keen observation, and good dietary habits are just a few of the steps you can take to limit your chickens’ exposure to this nasty infection. 

  • Maintain a sanitary environment for birds to live by regularly cleaning. A clean coop reduces the risk of infection by eliminating the growth of bacteria.
  • Provide soft and even ground substrate to walk on. Sand is an excellent choice here.
  • Another good practice for keeping up the coop is to address and maintain the surface your chickens walk on. Any uneven or splintered surfaces pose a threat to a chicken’s feet as they can easily become cut and infected by debris.
  • Keep the area as dry as possible-install proper drainage, better substrate, or cover from rain to prevent flooding and mud accumulation in the outdoor run.
  • Do not wait for bumblefoot to take hold; be proactive in checking your chicken’s feet.  Inspect and clean each bird’s feet at least once a month.
  • Add Astroturf to perches.
  • Apply coconut oil to feet and non-feathered legs to help protect the skin and keep it hydrated.
  • Feed a balanced diet.  Diet is pivotal for ensuring that your chickens maintain their health as the nutrients they ingest contribute to the development of their feathers and skin.
  • Set the correct perch height. One of the biggest mistakes a chicken owner makes is building the roost too high off the ground. Bumblefoot is predominantly caused by recurring force and excess pressure to the foot. As a result, activities like jumping down from a roost that is too high places your chicken at a higher risk of a foot injury. Read here for all our roosting tips.
  • Keep toe nails trimmed.

Please note: I am not a veterinarian, just a chicken owner & lover sharing my opinions and experiences. Any advice on caring for animals or diagnosing & treating medical conditions for animals is for informational purposes and should be evaluated by a trained veterinarian.

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