Bumble-foot in Chickens

A chicken’s foot has sixteen small bones, some of which are tiny. The foot is very flexible and withstands huge amounts of force.Considering the amount of time chickens spend on their feet, it should come as no surprise that foot problems and injuries are common in chickens.

Bumble-foot is an issue you need to understand and be on the lookout for in your backyard flock.

What is Bumble-foot?

Bumble Foot

Scientifically referred to as Plantar Pododermatitis, bumblefoot is a serious infection in chickens’ feet. If not treated, it can kill a bird, as the infection can spread from the foot to the other tissues throughout the body, including the organs and even the bones. The bone infection (osteomyelitis) is very painful for the bird and difficult to treat.

What Causes Bumble foot?

Bumble-foot occurs after the chicken gets a cut, scratch, scrape, puncture wound, splinter, raw spot, insect bite, or another injury on its foot. Such injuries can happen:

  • from excess weight-bearing due to obesity
  • due to lameness causing unequal weight bearing
  • after walking on dirty or wet ground or bedding
  • due to heavy landing after jumping from a height
  • from splintered roosts
  • from sharp objects encountered while foraging in the yard or run

As chickens walk around in puddles, mud, dirty litter, poop, and other nasty substances, they are exposed to bacteria. This bacteria, usually staphylococcus aureus, then invades the wound and causes inflammation and skin infection. This can progress to a pus-filled abscess, which if untreated can become a systemic infection.

Bumble foot is not uncommon in chickens, especially in heavier breeds and chickens that are overweight.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Limping
  • Sitting for long periods
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Localized heat
  • Lump between the toes
  • A black or dark brown scab on the foot pad
  • Lameness

How to Treat Bumble foot

Treating and eradicating bumble-foot in a flock is difficult and time-consuming. Yet without treatment, the infection may quickly spread throughout the body, resulting in sepsis a miserable death. Euthanasia may be required.

Bumble-foot should ideally be treated by your veterinarian. This is not always convenient or possible, so there are ways you can address the issue yourself.

  • Some vets recommend soaking the chicken’s foot in an antibiotic treatment solution.
  • Daily warm water Epsom salt foot baths can soften the skin of the foot. Stand the chicken in the solution for no more than 10 minutes.

If the foot has a black scab, you’ll need to release it. This is actually a plug comprised of dead tissue and pus which forms as the foot attempts to heal. The foot will heal much more effectively and quickly if the scab is removed.

You will need:

  • A towel
  • Bench space
  • Clean kitchen sink or laundry tub
  • Disposable gloves
  • Epsom salts
  • Neosporin or other wound care gel
  • Vetericyn Poultry Care solution
  • Vet Wrap
  • Medical Tape

How to Treat

  1. Put on disposable gloves.
  2. Soak the hen’s feet for 10 minutes in warm water Epsom salt solution.
  3. Disinfect the foot with iodine or Epsom salt solution.
  4. Wrap the chicken gently but securely in a towel (you will most likely need two people) and cover her head (but make sure she can breathe) and keep her feet out.
  5. Take your time with the following and gently reassure her throughout the process with a calm, soothing voice.
  6. Put the bird on her side or back and hold her injured foot.
  7. If the black scab/plug does not easily come away with some pressure around it, you’ll need to cut it out.
  8. Gently use a sterile scalpel to very carefully cut or lift the edges of the scab. Mop up any blood with a clean tissue or gauze swab.
  9. Once the scab has been cut all the way around, use clean tweezers to pull it out. It should resemble a corn kernel in shape.
  10. The hole left behind will be deep – flush it with saline.
  11. Dry the foot and spray with Vetericyn.
  12. Fill the hole with antibiotic wound care gel. Apply a dressing and bandage. It should be snug but not tight.
  14. Change the dressing daily to make sure the wound is healing.
  15. Try to prevent your hen from roosting for a few days, instead have her rest on soft bedding. Alternatively, pad her usual perch.

This procedure will be painful for the chicken, but she will feel much better once it is done. Chickens do not do well with anesthetics and only a vet should ever administer one. Ask your vet about suitable pain relief.

Tips for Prevention

  • Inspect your chickens’ feet regularly so you can identify injuries or signs of infection as early as possible.
  • Provide a balanced, nutritious diet to avoid obesity and prevent vitamin deficiency. Include calcium supplementation (crushed eggshell/oyster shell) and don’t allow more than 10% of the diet to be treats or kitchen scraps. Don’t overfeed!
  • Keep roosts within 45cm of the floor of the coop so chickens don’t hurt their feet when jumping.
  • Ensure roosts/perches are splinter-free and free from sharp or rough edges.
  • Keep the coop, run, bedding and nesting boxes clean, fresh, and dry. Use sand in preference to pine shavings on the floor.
  • Try to remove sharp debris from the run and yard – this includes nails, screws, wire, hard or brittle plastic, etc.
  • Trim your hens’ toenails regularly if required.

Regularly check the health and well being of your backyard chickens, including their feet – this way you’ll be able to identify and treat bumble-foot quickly and successfully.