How to Spot and Treat Bumblefoot in Chickens

Chicken with bumblefoot being held by someone

Bumblefoot in chickens is a common yet often overlooked ailment that poses a significant risk to our feathered friends’ health. After all, this condition can lead to serious complications if left untreated.

However, before you start panicking about what to do for your affected chickens, there are some things you need to know about bumblefoot — and how it can be treated.

In this article, we’ll go over the symptoms of chicken bumblefoot, along with some preventative measures to help you avoid or cure it. Let’s get started!

What Is Bumblefoot in Chickens?

Close up of a chicken foot with bumblefoot

Bumblefoot, medically known as plantar or ulcerative pododermatitis, is a bacterial infection in chickens’ feet. It occurs when their wounds, often caused by injuries, get infected with bacteria. This condition can cause swelling, limping, and lameness that requires prompt attention.

Generally speaking, bumblefoot may give the appearance of chickens sporting oversized slippers due to the swelling of their feet. The exact look, however, varies with each chicken and the condition’s severity.

For instance, some birds may show only minor swelling, while others exhibit significant enlargement of the affected area.

Initially, bumblefoot begins as a small, shiny red spot — similar to a blemish — on the bottom of a bird’s foot. This spot can also appear as a tiny black scab or a textured, rough patch.

As the infection progresses, the area becomes increasingly swollen, resembling a balloon as it fills with air. This inflammation can cause noticeable discomfort and alter the said chicken’s walking pattern.

How Serious Is Bumblefoot?

If caught early, bumblefoot is manageable, but neglect can lead to severe complications. Untreated, the condition can cause chronic pain, crippling foot issues, and may even be deadly.

To be specific, chickens suffering from advanced bumblefoot face the harsh reality of enduring disability and potentially a shortened lifespan.

Last spring, I noticed one of my chickens was having trouble walking. Upon inspection, I saw its foot was swollen and inflamed — telltale signs of bumblefoot.

However, I did not treat it right away because I thought it was just a minor issue that would go away on its own. After all, it didn’t seem so bad, just a little soreness in one non-weight-bearing leg joint.

Sadly, my mistake would prove to be a costly one. The bird’s pain got worse over time and eventually became so severe that it couldn’t even stand up on its own or walk at all anymore.

What Causes Bumblefoot in Chickens?

Applying medicine to a chicken bumblefoot

Bumblefoot in chickens often starts with a cut or scrape on their foot pad, which then gets infected by bacteria. Common culprits include S. aureus, E. coli, and pseudomonas.

Commonly, chicken injuries result from stepping on sharp objects like barbed wire or nails.

Once injured, walking on contaminated bedding worsens the problem by introducing germs to the wound. This common scenario in unclean coops often leads to bumblefoot.

However, it should be noted that factors like freezing weather, obesity, and poor nutrition also contribute to the development and worsening of ulcerative pododermatitis.

Symptoms of Bumblefoot

The severity of chicken bumblefoot can range from mild to severe, with various symptoms associated with each stage. Below, we will discuss some of the most notable ones.

Mild Cases

In mild cases, chicken bumblefoot is kind of difficult to diagnose. But here are a few signs that might indicate a problem:

  • Redness or swelling of the foot
  • Mild inflammation
  • Reluctance to walk, stand, or grasp normally with one or both feet​
  • Presence of a black scab or a tiny red dot
  • Affected area feels hot to the touch
  • Swollen toes
  • Slight limping

Fun Fact: A 2009 study revealed that thermography, which is a nifty heat-sensing technique, is quite the detective when it comes to spotting the early signs of bumblefoot in chickens.

Severe Cases

Meanwhile, severe cases of bumblefoot manifest themselves in a variety of ways that can be quite alarming. The following is a list of symptoms that indicate such a condition is present:

  • Increased degrees of swelling, heat, and reddening of the skin around the scab
  • Discolored toes and legs
  • Evident limping or hopping
  • Large ball-like foot abscess
  • Fluid production around the affected area
  • Swelling farther up the leg
  • Inability to walk
  • Deformed foot

To see what a severe bumblefoot in chickens looks like, watch this video:

George the Rooster with bumblefoot

How to Treat Bumblefoot in Chickens

Disinfecting a chicken foot affected by bumblefoot

Since mild and severe cases of bumblefoot manifest differently in chickens, there are many ways to treat it.

Mild Cases

Treating mild cases of bumblefoot begins with cleanliness. To help prevent further infection, wash the feet and legs of the affected chicken with a mild antiseptic soap.

You can also use a soft toothbrush to scrub the chicken’s nails and leg scales. This extra step ensures that all areas of the foot, even the hard-to-reach spots, are cleaned thoroughly. Yet, be gentle to avoid causing additional stress or injury.

After each wash, applying an antimicrobial cream to the affected area can help fight the infection, too. However, make sure the cream is safe for chickens and follow the application instructions carefully.

Severe Cases

In severe cases of bumblefoot, though, surgery is usually needed. This procedure involves removing infected tissue and requires the expertise of a vet or poultry pro.

However, if access to a vet is not an option, it is possible to perform the procedure yourself. It involves making an incision in the foot to extract the infected core, which requires a steady hand and a strong stomach.

Still, note that the surgery to remove the infection from the chicken’s foot is not a quick fix. It often requires multiple attempts over 2 to 3 days to ensure all the infected material has been removed.

Hence, while it may seem easy to do at first glance, nothing beats taking your chicken to a vet for proper treatment.

How to Prevent Bumblefoot in Your Flock

Preventing bumblefoot requires attention to the living conditions and health of your chickens. The following are some ways you can do this:

  • Separate any birds that show aggression: To minimize injuries that can lead to bumblefoot, quickly isolate chickens that are bullying or pecking at others.
  • Sand down any rough edges: Inspect the coop and file down any rough or sharp edges that could scratch or cut your chickens’ feet. This helps to prevent the initial injuries that bacteria can infect.
  • Clean the coop frequently: Regular sanitation of the coop helps to eliminate harmful bacteria. Thus, remove droppings and replace bedding often to reduce the risk of bumblefoot.
  • Keep perches short to prevent injuries: Design perches to be low enough that chickens do not hurt themselves when jumping off. This can prevent foot injuries that could develop into bumblefoot.
  • Ensure a balanced diet to avoid obesity: A healthy diet keeps chickens fit and less prone to foot problems. So, feed them high-quality feed that meets their nutritional needs without leading to excessive weight.
  • Conduct regular health checks: Frequently examine each of your chickens for early signs of foot problems, such as cuts or swelling. Catching issues early can prevent them from developing into more serious conditions like bumblefoot.

These preventive measures help ensure a healthy and happy flock, free from the risks associated with bumblefoot.

Caring for Chickens with Bumblefoot

Chicken feet soaking in a bowl as treatment for bumblefoot

When chickens develop bumblefoot, isolating them helps prevent the spread of infection and allows for focused care.

Meanwhile, if surgery has been performed to remove the bacteria, it’s crucial to care for the wound properly. Dress it as instructed by the vet to promote healing and prevent re-infection.

Additionally, vitamin A can be supplemented to help with wound healing. One good way to do this is to give your injured chicken treats in the form of leafy green vegetables.

Pro Tip: Occasional Epsom salt baths offer additional relief as well. Soak the chicken’s affected foot in a small container with an Epsom salt solution for 10 to 15 minutes. This can aid in reducing swelling and pain.

Frequently Asked Questions

Person treating a chicken bumblefoot with a scalpel

Is Bumblefoot Easy to Treat?

Bumblefoot in chickens is treatable, especially when caught early. However, advanced cases may require more intensive treatments, such as surgery or abscess removal, to address the infection effectively.

Will Chicken Bumblefoot Heal on Its Own?

Unfortunately, chicken bumblefoot does not heal on its own. It starts as a wound, becomes infected with harmful bacteria, and progressively worsens without treatment.

What Happens If Bumblefoot Goes Untreated?

If bumblefoot is not treated, it can rapidly spread to the affected chicken’s muscle and bone tissues. This progression can lead to severe immobility and, in extreme cases, can be fatal.

In fact, an animal science professor from the University of Connecticut has noted that unchecked bumblefoot can have bad consequences, with a mortality rate as high as 50 percent.

Is Bumblefoot Contagious to Other Chickens?

Bumblefoot isn’t infectious among chickens. Yet, the bacteria causing the infection can spread within the flock. So, you should clean your coop and make sure that any diseased chickens are isolated from healthy ones.

Do you have any advice on preventing or treating bumblefoot in chickens? Share your thoughts or experience with us by dropping a comment below! Also, if you have any questions or concerns about the article, please feel free to contact us.

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