When dealing with any disease we have a tendency to focus all of our energy on treating the disease and then moving on to other issues. However, like most diseases and conditions in poultry, bumblefoot is largely a consequence of less-than-ideal husbandry practices. This means that you can prevent bumblefoot by optimizing a few simple husbandry practices.
What is Bumblefoot?
Bumblefoot is a bacterial infection or abscess of the foot. It’s caused by a cut/scrape to the chicken’s foot that gets contaminated by different species of bacteria that are present and often ubiquitous in the environment including the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), E. coli and Pseudomonas. Once the bacterial infection is established in the foot, a large inflamed red swelling is often apparent. The initial infection is in the footpad but severe cases can spread to the joints and tendons in the leg and beyond.
Like most infections, prevention, early diagnosis and quick treatment are essential for an optimal outcome. If not treated, the infection can spread and in severe cases the chicken can die. If you see a suspected case of bumblefoot or for that matter any other chicken that looks sick it is important to quickly isolate the sick chickens in order to try and prevent the spread of any potential infectious disease within your entire flock. Click here to find a vet in SoCal!
What Causes Bumblefoot and What Should I Look For?
Typically there is a cascade of events that lead to bumblefoot. As mentioned above there is usually an abrasion or scrape to the bird’s foot that creates a “window’ for a bacterial infection. The scrapes can come from poorly constructed perches or cages that are the source of the abrasion.
Other scenarios/cascades that can cause bumblefoot include:
- Lameness in one leg which causes increased weight-bearing on the unaffected leg. This in turn can lead to excessive pressure being placed on that foot which in-turn can cause a small cut which can lead to infection. Consequently, in cases of a single leg lameness, the opposite leg should always be closely examined.
- Over nutrition: Both feet can be affected in obese, older chickens. The excessive weight can lead to a similar scenario as described above.
It is always important to assess and examine your chickens to identify any abnormalities and to identify small problems before they become big problems. When examining your chicken’s legs, you should:
- Examine the legs, feeling for any deformity bony deformities that may be broken legs.
- Make sure the scales on the feet and legs are smooth and closely adhered to each other. (Upturned scales may be the result of a scaly leg mite infestation)
- Check the pads of the feet for the presence of calluses, inflammation and infection. The bottoms of the feet should also be free from scratches, swelling, scabs or ulcerations.
How to Prevent Bumblefoot
Bumblefoot is never seen in wild birds but can be seen in domesticated poultry and captive poultry which implies that the disease is a management disease. Correction of the underlying predisposing factors will often reverse this disease process. Optimizations include:
- Using smooth materials that are not abrasive for perches. The optimal perch shape should be square with rounded edges and approximately 48mm or 1.9inches to maximize contact areas and reduce foot pad pressure. In addition, adding a softer material on the outside of the perch allowed a better grip and reduced pressure on the footpad. Try insulating tape or another material that is soft, easy to clean, and replace if necessary.
- Using optimal nutrition to prevent obesity (aka don’t over-feed your birds and don’t over-feed your birds on high calorie chicken scratch and bird seed).
- Changing from wire flooring to solid flooring. Chickens can catch their toenails in wire floors and may injure their toes or legs trying to escape.
How to Treat Bumblefoot
This is the worst option since prevention is most ideal, but there are options for successful treatment as opposed to several other poultry diseases where there are no treatment options. It is best to identify a veterinarian who has some experience treating poultry or other avian species. While there are effective antibiotics for the bacteria that cause bumblefoot the challenge is getting the effective level of the antibiotic to the desired tissue which for bumblefoot are tissues (i.e. footpad) that have a poor blood supply. Consequently, treatment may require the use of antibiotics in combination with debridement (removal of infected tissue) and wound cleaning. It is also important to understand that different bacteria can cause bumblefoot. Therefore, the selection of an antibiotic should be done after your veterinarian has done a culture and sensitivity test to identify the most appropriate antibiotic. Many antibiotics have associated withdrawal times which tell you the number of days you have to wait until the antibiotic residues are no longer in the eggs or meat. You can contact the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank for assistance regarding withdrawal times in any “food animal.” (www.farad.org).
Can I Get Bumblefoot?
While humans can’t get bumblefoot per se, Staphylococcus aureus, which is the most common organism that causes bumblefoot can infect humans. This is another reason it is so important to handle your birds (sick or not sick) with care. Even healthy chickens can carry organisms that make us sick so when dealing with a suspected bumblefoot case wear gloves and always wash your hands with soap and water. Remember that humans are the primary spreader of disease via fomites so have dedicated clothing and shoes for your coop which do not go inside your house.
Don’t just focus on one thing (in this case bumblefoot) but look at the entire chicken as part of a routine physical exam and then get to the legs and feet. You should also do this for your coop and surrounding area. By being preventative (aka staying ahead of the curve) you can prevent most diseases in your chickens.
Written by Dr. Maurice Pitesky at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Note: Picture provided by Dr. Michelle Hawkins from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.