Lessons From a Neverending Battle Against Bumblefoot in Chickens
Bumblefoot is a Common, Treatable Chicken Foot Problem
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in Backyard Poultry December 2014/January 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.