Lessons From a Neverending Battle Against Bumblefoot in Chickens

Bumblefoot is a Common, Treatable Chicken Foot Problem

Lessons From a Neverending Battle Against Bumblefoot in Chickens

By Brittany Thompson, Georgia

As long as I have been raising poultry, one of the most common problems I experience is bumblefoot in chickens. Here is what I have learned…

Lesson #1: What Is Bumblefoot?

“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 characterized by swelling, sometimes redness and often a characteristic black or brown scab on the bottom of the foot. Left untreated, serious cases of bumblefoot can be fatal as the infection can spread to other tissues and bones. After serious cases have healed, the foot or toes may be scarred for life have an abnormal appearance. Your chicken may never walk normally again. I have seen cases from other flocks where the infection had gotten so bad the whole foot of the chicken was swollen with infection.

Lesson #2: What Causes Bumblefoot in Chickens?

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. The entry point for bacteria can be a cut, scrape, injury, or breakdown of the skin from walking on wet, dirty bedding. Injuries can result from a splintered roost or repetitive, heavy landings from heights, particularly in heavy breeds and obese chickens. In my personal experience, bumblefoot in chickens seems to happen even when they are free range like mine are. Whatever the cause, failure to treat it can result in the spread of the infection to the bones and tendons, debilitating pain and death.


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Lesson #3: What Prevents Bumblefoot?

1. Know what to feed chickens. They require a complete, balanced diet to avoid vitamin deficiencies and obesity that put them at risk of contracting bumblefoot. Laying hens need a complete layer ration with an additional calcium source such as crushed oyster shells or well-crushed eggshells available to them in a separate feeder. Do not feed your chickens a lot of table scraps and treats. This can, of course, lead to obesity.

2. Roosts should be splinter-free and less than 18 inches from the floor.

3. Coop litter should be kept dry and as clean as possible to avoid bacteria and chicken parasites. Consider using sand instead of pine shavings or straw in the coop and run. Any spills drain away from the surface of sand quickly, and sand is not as hospitable to bacterial growth as other litter types and it coats and desiccates droppings, which results in cleaner feet.

4. Always do a routine check up on everyone’s feet! This is one of the most important prevention methods for chicken foot problems. All of the prevention methods may not completely prevent bumblefoot in chickens, which is a very common problem and can happen to any chicken. I have found the same hens get it over and over so be on high alert for those chickens that have gotten it more than twice. They seem to be most likely to get the infection over and over again and it may occur in the exact same places as before.

Common symptoms of bumblefoot are limping or lameness, swollen feet and toes, redness of the foot and black scabs on the foot pads or toes. Photo by Brittany Thompson.
Common symptoms of bumblefoot are limping or lameness, swollen feet and toes, redness of the foot and black scabs on the foot pads or toes. Photo by Brittany Thompson.

Lesson #4: A Case Study

I recently had the worst case of bumblefoot I have ever treated. One of my 2.5-year-old Silver Laced Wyandotte hens, Haley, started out three months ago with just a small black scab under one of her toes. I did what I usually did when I found bumblefoot in chickens: home surgery. This is usually what any backyard chicken keeper does when they find bumblefoot. Eventually, the skin around the wound fell off, leaving her toe bone under her toe exposed. The infection spread to her footpad and ankle area, even after we tried at least three antibiotics, including Penicillin G, Baytril and Cephalexin.

After we had tried the lower end antibiotics, my longtime vet, Dr. Dean Campell, (Heart of Georgia Animal Care located in Milledgeville, Georgia) recommended Amoxicillin/ clavulanic acid twice a day. We gave her 2 milliliters of the powder mixed with 48 milliliters of water twice a day with a syringe. She started the infection in May 2014, and her infection cleared in August 2014, a very long heal time. She now has a scarred toe that looks bigger than her other toes.

In July 2014, my 5-year-old Rhode Island Red hen, Chirpy, had a foot pad that also got infected badly. She had a nickel-sized hole in the bottom of her foot. For her, my vet recommended Amoxicillin/clavulanic acid at a stronger dose than was used for Haley. Also given to me was a recipe for something called Dakin’s Solution. Dead tissue with this wound was the biggest problem. It had to be cleaned out for several days in a row.

Just a small scar remains after healing.
Just a small scar remains after healing.

In September 2014, Chirpy still had the bumblefoot. The wound had been slow to heal and she had to have checkups with the vet. Chirpy was prescribed, at my suggestion, a cream called Silver Sulfadiazine, most commonly used on people with burns or bad infections.

This cream is stronger than over the counter antibiotic creams. Chirpy had been prescribed the Amoxicillin/clavulanic acid when the infection set in. In October 2014, Chirpy was switched to Wonder Dust powder. This worked for the infection and her foot is finally healing.

Have you had to deal with bumblefoot in chickens? Do you have any advice to share?

Brittany Thompson lives in the backwoods of middle Georgia and raises chickens and turkeys. All questions, comments/critiques, and your stories/photos of your poultry are very encouraged and welcome. You can find her on Facebook under Brittany’s Fresh Eggs or e-mail her at concreterose2013@icloud.com.

Originally published in Backyard Poultry December 2014/January 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.

7 thoughts on “Lessons From a Neverending Battle Against Bumblefoot in Chickens”
  1. A Pekín duck abandoned on my lake presented with an ankle the size of a golf ball limping horribly. Advice said probably Bumblefoot I took her to the vet twice for lancing and several rounds of antibiotics it improved minimally and then went backwards she developed another area on the toe of the opposite foot too . She was a wreck we treated with bacitracin endless hours of epsom salt soaks and vet wrap bandaging which required keeping her out of the water and miserable. After three MONTHS of this we opened a couple of areas over the abscesses and began irrigating it with 50/50 water to peroxide and Deb riding it with a tiny tiny crochet hook. If eschar formed around the edges we removed this easily with the edge of a razor blade after another month of this every few days her sores were decreased by 75 percent and she became impossible to catch when she was given a sabbatical on the lake. She is now free again and although her feet don’t look perfect she is completely mobile and appears healthy. We would have liked one more go at her but she was over being caught and caged hoping the last scabbed area will eventually fall off naturally we found the peroxide and crochet hook allowed us to remove the hard white infected material more easily without having to cut her leg with a two inch incision hope this helps someone’s duck..

  2. ty this is exactly w j.g at i needed to find !!! my poor papa roo has been in the same battle for a year.. i was considering putting him down even tho he is the gentlest and friendliest of any roo I’ve ever had in 10yrs.. i really love this lil guy so i hope as i do as you have done he can stay w.us for many yrs to come!

  3. I was hoping for lessons learned! Never do surgery on bumblefoot. Your bird’s body naturally wants to push that infection out, so give it the tools. Cutting just opens it up for more bacteria to enter! Soak the foot in a warm Epsom salt bath for 20 minutes. Apply an antibiotic ointment and cover with non stick gauze and wrap with vet wrap or something similar. Repeat every two days until it’s healed up.

    1. That’s what I wanted to hear!! How do you soak a chickens foot tho? I really didn’t want to do any kind of surgery

  4. I have a young turkey,Tia, and have recently let her join all the other birds. I didnt realize tho that she couldnt walk on her left leg. I thought she stood with her leg crossed over while eating. I was wrong. Her leg is actually deformed. Like the knee or elbow is dislocated. She falls everywhere and rocks before taking a step forward…and then 3backwards. Its sad to watch and i am so mad at myself for not letting her out of her big house to walk around more. I tried bracing it with a piece of foam. What u wrap water line with to keep from freezing and then wrapped it all up like a cast. It didnt help at all,she was miserable and it seemed worse! She was walk falling less w/o my help. Also, shes always had a ruuny beak like a cold and it gets crusted over one side and she cant breathe. She now has a swollen pocket of air under her eye and causes it to water. Idk what to do to help her. Shes gentle but gets terribly upset when i first go to pick her up..help!!

  5. Hi there…ive been trying to heal one of my girls that has Bumblefoot for weeks now….i soak it in epsom salts water twice a day and spray vetercyn spray on it and wrap it in antibacterial gauze…..everyday after her morning soak i give it a squeeze and a good size chunk of white comes out and her foot looks empty but with a nice size hole and im always optimistic that I finally got it all out then when I do her soak before bed I take the bandage of to check it out and theres slight whiteish discharge that comes out…not a lot but just a lil….what am I suppose to do??????…..im tired of squeezing her foot and hurting her…i just want it to get better…..any advice please

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