A condition that affects all breeds and ages of domestic fowls in all locations.
The condition involves an infection on the bird’s foot and is characterized by swelling, redness and a black or brown scab on the base of the bird’s foot. The infection can be fatal if left untreated as the infection can spread to other tissues and bones.
The condition occurs when bacteria, such as Staphylococcus enters the skin of a bird's foot, creating an infection and a pus filled abscess. Small cuts, scrapes, irritated areas and raw spots on the bird’s feet can provide an entry point for the bacteria. These wounds are commonly caused by splintered roosts, repetitive hard landings when jumping from heights and walking on wet, dirty bedding. Heavy breeds, large roosters and obese birds can suffer from skin injuries on their feet due to the pressure that the extra body weight exerts on their foot pads.
By the time the behavioural symptoms of bumblefoot (limping and lameness) become apparent the foot will have been infected for some time and the condition quite progressed.
Early diagnosis requires close inspection of bird’s feet for any scratches, irritated areas, or raw spots that may have provided an entry point for the bacteria. If an infection is present, early symptoms include pink/red colouring around the toes and at later stages of infection the base of the bird’s foot will appear swollen and red and a black or brown scab may be present.
At later stages of infection, birds will appear to be lame or limp and will avoid excessive movement. However, at this stage the infection has usually been present for sometime, making early diagnosis crucial.
Early diagnosis and treatment is important and will involve a less painful and time consuming treatment option. Inspecting birds feet regularly and taking preventative measures is always more efficient than treatment. There are distinct stages to the development of bumblefoot and treatment differs according to the stage of infection.
Prior to stage 1 – Wound/Injury
Prior to any infection occurring, for bumblefoot to develop, a bird will have a cut, graze, raw spot or skin irritation on the base of the foot. At this stage, if no bacteria have entered prior to identification of the wound, there is an opportunity for infection to be avoided through appropriate treatment and management.
If a wound or raw spot is identified on a bird’s foot, the bird should be treated immediately. Treatment involves washing the affected foot in a solution of warm water and an antiseptic agent such as betadine. The foot should be thoroughly dried and an antibacterial cream can be used on the wound. It is important to keep the bird in an extremely dry, clean environment to prevent bacteria entering the wound. If this is not possible in the birds usual housing area, for example in the case of free range birds, the bird should be restrained to a clean and dry area with fresh clean bedding and access to food and water. Washing, drying and application of antibacterial and antiseptic agents should be repeated at least twice daily until the wound is healed. The bird should be closely monitored for signs of infection. The first signs of bumblefoot include pinkish-red, rough areas on the top and base of the foot or between the toes. In cases of a larger wound, the wound can be dressed with antibacterial cream, sterile gauze and an animal bandage such as vet wrap. Severe wounds should always be treated by a veterinarian.
The first stage of bumblefoot is characterised by pinkish, red or rough areas on the base and top of the foot as well as between the toes. At this stage early treatment may avoid a serious infection and the need for veterinary intervention. At this stage treat the bird as per the treatment described above.
Once all signs of infection and wound/irritation have subsided, the bird can be returned to its enclosure however it is recommended that the bedding, enclosure environment and cleaning routines be assessed to ensure another infection does not occur and any problems that may have led to the infection are identified. Ensure the enclosure has clean, dry bedding and is free from any objects that could cause injury before returning the bird.
If the infection on the bird's foot appears to be worsening following treatment, including swelling, redness and lameness, continue treatment and seek veterinary advice/treatment.
Birds with this stage of infection will show signs of redness, swelling, sores, localised heat and discomfort. At this stage birds may limp or avoid excessive movement. If these symptoms are identified, the bird should be restricted to a small clean, dry area and the washing, drying and application of antibacterial and antiseptic spray as explained above should be started immediately. Gloves should always be worn when handling birds that have a bacterial infection. At this stage a veterinarian should be called to provide treatment. Restricting a bird to a small cage allows close monitoring of the bird, easy treatment, reduces stress when catching the bird and restricts movement which could lead to worsening of the wound. In addition, isolating the bird will prevent the bird being picked on by other birds if it is avoiding movement.
This is the final and most serious stage of the infection. At this stage symptoms include redness, swelling, heat, sores, lameness, limping, black or brown scabs and the bird will avoid any movement or activity that involves putting pressure on the affected foot. The bird will be in a significant amount of pain. At this stage birds must be isolated to a clean, dry area immediately. A veterinarian should be called immediately to provide treatment as a small surgery will be required. If the infection is too progressed, a veterinarian may sometimes decide that euthanasia is the most humane approach rather than treatment. At this stage of infection, isolation is also important to avoid the bird being trampled or picked on by other birds as it will avoid all movement. Isolation also reduces the risk of the bacteria spreading to the enclosure and to other animals. Gloves should be worn at all times when handling birds that may be infected with bacteria.
Measures should be taken to prevent bumblefoot as treatment is difficult, time consuming, painful and not always successful.
Regular inspection of birds’ feet for any signs of infection is an important measure to identify the problem early. Signs of infection include swelling, redness and black or brown scabs. Inspection of bird’s feet for cuts, irritations and raw spots is also important as these injuries allow the bacteria to enter. Identifying injuries early and treating accordingly can prevent the bacteria from entering.
Ensuring birds have the correct diet for their age, breed, size and production stage is extremely important to avoid vitamin deficiencies and obesity. Both vitamins deficiencies and obesity can lead to bumblefoot. Heavier breeds, roosters and obese birds have an increased amount of pressure on their feet, putting them at higher risk of foot injuries and raw spots on their feet which can provide bacteria entry points. For this reason, larger birds, roosters and obese birds should be inspected more regularly and diets should be closely monitored to control birds’ weight.
Roosts must be splinter free and reasonably low to the ground to prevent birds injuring their feet with repetitive jumping from roosts. Approximately 45cm is the recommended height for perches in order to avoid foot injuries. Heavier birds are at a higher risk of suffering injuries from jumping.
Bedding in the bird’s enclosure must be clean and dry at all times. Water supplies should be in areas that will not effect bedding and enclosures must be cleaned and bedding removed/replaced regularly. Bedding options should be considering if bumblefoot is a problem. Sand can be used as a bedding instead of shavings or straw as it drains easily and dries out making it a less hospitable surface for bacterial growth.