Bumblefoot Can Be Fatal If Left Untreated

If you see your chicken having difficulty walking, check for swelling on the bottom of its foot. Your chicken may be suffering from bumblefoot.

Let us share you an article from the-chicken-chick.com discussing this disease.

“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.

Causes

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 inside 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. Most bumblefoot infections result from small cuts or scrapes acquired during normal scratching and foraging.

Whatever the cause, failure to treat it can result in the spread of the infection to the bones and tendons, debilitating pain and death.

This is an advanced case of Bumblefoot, which was successfully treated by surgical removal at home.

Prevention and Detection

Preventative measures should be taken to avoid bumblefoot as treatment is painful and time-consuming and eradicating it, difficult. Regular flock foot inspections are highly recommended to detect infections at the earliest possible stage.

Chickens 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 egg shells available to them in a separate hopper. Treats, snacks and kitchen scraps should not comprise more than 5-10 percent of a flock’s daily dietary intake so as not to disrupt the nutritional balance carefully calculated in commercial layer feeds and to avoid obesity.

Roosts should be splinter-free and less than eighteen inches from the floor. Coop litter should be kept dry and clean. Consider using sand instead of pine shavings or straw in the coop and run. Any spills drain away from the surface of sand quickly, sand is not as hospitable to bacterial growth as other litter types and it coats and desiccates droppings, which results in cleaner feet.

The most common behavioral symptoms of bumblefoot include limping and lameness. By the time a chicken is seen limping, the infection has ordinarily been festering for quite some time. Examination of the foot pad may reveal redness, swelling and either a callous-looking lesion, a lump between the toes or a black scab on the foot pad.

Treatment Options:

  1. Mild cases can take a wait-and-see approach but they tend to get worse. Some cases can be treated with the removal of the scab and the application of Vetericyn 2-3 times a day until healed, but most cannot.
  2. Cut out the scab and underlying infected tissue as detailed below.

Surgical Treatment

Ideally, a chicken with bumblefoot will be treated by an avian veterinarian. The procedure is not complicated or technically challenging, but it can be time consuming and emotionally taxing to perform this graphic procedure on one’s pet. It generally takes about an hour to complete and while it can be done by one person, two makes it much easier. Performing this procedure is best done at the kitchen sink where adequate lighting, counter space and a water source are available.

Pain

There is no question that this procedure is painful. Chickens appear to tolerate this procedure well. However, chickens do not react to or express pain in ways we are accustomed to expect: crying, wincing, cringing, whimpering, etc. While the bird remains stoic throughout the procedure, the calm demeanor is thought to have evolved as a defense mechanism for self-preservation in the wild so as not to attract attention from predators. The bumblefoot removal procedure is indeed painful for chickens, however birds should not be given common anesthetics such as benzocaine or xylocaine as this class of drugs is known to cause heart failure and death in birds. Even over-the-counter products such as tripleantibiotic ointment containing topical anesthetics ending in the suffix “caine” can be fatal.

Always keep a basic first-aid kit handy and stocked with Vetericyn VF, Betadine, triple antibiotic ointment, vitamins & electrolytes, sterile scalpels, non-stick gauze pads, Vetrap, tweezers, disposable gloves, Epsom salt and scissors.

Preparation & Equipment

The supplies and equipment used include: several large towels, gloves, Vetrap, scalpel or biopsy punch, paper towels, VetericynVF or triple antibiotic ointment & non-stick gauze. All of the supplies are available online and many are commonly found in drugstores or supermarkets.

Infection control is of the utmost importance at every stage of this procedure. The sink is sanitized with bleach and water solution and sterile instruments are used. Gloves are worn to protect the bird and the operator as staph infections can be contracted by humans.

Soak

The affected foot is soaked in warm water and Epsom salt or warm water and Betadine and scrubbed for a general cleaning and to soften up the foot tissue. Vetericyn VF is then applied to kill bacteria remaining on the surface of the foot. Very mild cases of bumblefoot may then be treated by excising the scab with a scalpel, applying Vetericyn VF to the abscess, covering with non-stick gauze and wrapping the foot with Vetrap. Vetericyn is re-applied two to three times a day and covered until healed. Not all cases of bumblefoot respond to this superficial treatment, however. Stubborn or more advanced abscesses are surgically removed. In some instances, antibiotics may be necessary.

Wrap

When surgical removal is necessary, after the foot is cleaned the bird is wrapped very loosely in a towel, covering its head and eyes, ensuring ample breathing room. This keeps the bird immobilized and calm. It is laid on the work surface, on its back with the affected foot facing towards the operator. It helps to have assistant holding the chicken in place gently and securely. Talking to the chicken throughout the procedure can be reassuring to both the bird and the operator. Vetericyn VF is again applied to the foot. Some oozing blood is expected, but not ghastly amounts. Dabbing the blood with paper towels helps create a clearer view of the work area.

Using a scalpel or biopsy punch, the foot pad is cut into around the circumference of the scab, straight down into the foot. A biopsy punch acts like an apple corer, removing the abscess. If using a scalpel, the task is a bit more tedious as live tissue is teased away from the abscess little by little. The scab itself is often attached to the abscess and can help lift the core out of the foot with the aid of a dry paper towel.

Breathe

Most of us are not accustomed to this type of invasive procedure and it can be taxing mentally and emotionally. Remembering to breathe throughout the procedure can help. We often find it necessary to sit down and regroup for a few minutes before returning to the job.

When a kernel is located and removed, the foot is again soaked in a sanitized sink or clean bowl containing Betadine and water. The foot pad is gently squeeze and massaged to loosen any dead tissue remaining. The foot is dried, Vetericyn is again applied to the area, the chicken is re-wrapped in the towel and the removal procedure continues. It often takes quite a while of digging, squeezing and soaking, alternately, to remove the all of the affected tissue.

Finishing Up & Bandaging

In cases where there is no central core or kernel, deciding when to end the procedure can be challenging. The stringy bits of tissue are extremely difficult to remove and it rarely seems as if it has all been removed. When it is determined that most of the tissue that can be removed has been removed, the foot is then prepared for bandaging.

Either Vetericyn or a triple antibiotic ointment is liberally applied to the open wound a 2” x 2” square of non-stick gauze is placed over the wound. The four corners of the gauze are folded in towards the center of the square, creating a smaller square, which creates a little bit of pressure to the area to stem any residual bleeding or oozing and keeps the Vetericyn or antibiotic ointment in place.

The gauze is kept in place with Vetrap, which is a self-adhesive bandaging material that is lightweight, flexible and requires no tape to stay secured in place. . It is not sticky or gluey and it stays secure even under normal scratching and roosting activities. It is important not to pull the Vetrap too tightly as it can cut off circulation to the foot.

One, six inch strip of Vetrap cut lengthwise into three or four smaller pieces is usually sufficient. The first strip of Vetrap is held in one hand, starting at the top of the foot and with the other hand, pulled over the gauze, then around and between the toes. The weaving is repeated with the remaining two strips, ending the wrap around the “ankle” by an inch or so.

Observation & Follow Up

The Vetrap remains in place for 24-48 hours when it is removed to assess the wound. If the gauze has stuck to the wound at all, soaking in warm water loosens it.

After the Vetwrap was removed, the gauze showed a little oozing, which is to be expected. The Vetwrap does a great job of keeping the area clean and dry. Stella has been in the coop with the rest of the flock since the surgery. Since the gauze was a little stuck to the wound area, (we had run out of non-stick gauze. oops) we soaked it in Epsom salt water before attempting to remove it.

The examination is intended to identify any redness, swelling, foul odor, red streaks up the foot and leg or excessive oozing that may indicate a secondary infection that would require treatment antibiotics.

If the foot appears to be healing well, the same wound care and bandaging procedure described above is repeated. The bandage remains on the foot for a week to 10 days, changing it approximately 48 hours. A new and improved scab will form; it will not be black as the original scab may have been.

While injured chickens are ordinarily separated from the flock for their own protection from other flock members, it is not necessary when using Vetrap as the bandage stays securely in place and the wound cannot be accessed by curious birds.

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