We’ve all seen it, that little bump under the bird’s foot or between its toes. Colloquially called bumblefoot, scientists call it Plantar Pododermatitis. Given their outdoor lifestyle, this is a fairly common chicken issue. Due to its characteristic black scab, bumblefoot is also known as foot burn.
Bumblefoot occurs when an injury or abrasion to the lower surface of the foot comes into contact with staphylococcus bacteria. A chicken’s toes, hocks, and the pads of its feet are all susceptible to the infection. If bumble foot is left untreated for a long period of time it can potentially grow into a fatal disease.
The article Footpad Dermatitis in Poultry (2010), notes that foot infections are related to several factors including genetics, environmental factors, nutrition, and bedding materials. While this refers to industrial farming, the same instances affect the appearance of the condition in our backyard feathered partners. The study also notes that nutrition plays a critical role in preventing skin issues, especially concerning the vitamins biotin and riboflavin. Deficiencies of vitamins and amino acids such as biotin, riboflavin, methionine, and cystine in the diets of growing birds have been reported to affect the incidence of [footpad dermatits.]”
It should be noted that chickens on a high-protein diet at are a higher risk for foot and skin conditions as well as arthritis. We know how much chickens love to try and “sample” your cat’s or dog’s food but try to limit them because of the high protein content!
Even in well-managed backyard flocks, bumblefoot can happen because of abrasions due to normal activity. For those of you considering rescuing or buying birds from poultry swaps, it can be a sign of problematic neglect. Since I run a chicken rescue facility, we regularly see bumbles in addition to emaciation and other welfare abuses.
What to look for:
,¢ Bumblefoot in relation to low body weight.
,¢ Bumblefloot in flocks living in derelict and unsanitary conditions (wet litter, dirty housing)
,¢ Severe cases (extreme swelling, foot deformity) that require surgical intervention.
,¢ Cases with birds that are ill or suffering from other disease causes leading to a weakened immune system.
Giving your birds a soft coop floor and and padded roost bars is a great way to try and prevent against bumblefoot. You should also keep your farm area clear of any sharp or foreign objects. But again, given their outdoor lifestyle, your birds are bound to hit a thorn, rock, wire or who knows what else at some point or another. Injuries are just a fact of being alive.
The best way to treat bumblefoot before it gets serious is to check your bird’s feet early and often. Do this when they come in at night or whenever you are handling them. You probably won’t see tiny cracks or bruises, but you will see sore areas and the telltale dark scab. This can form in between toes as well. Also check for swellings between the toes.
If you spot a bird with an early case of bumblefoot, chances are its immune system will take care of it. But you should take extra precaution to ensure the “scab” or infection doesn’t spread.
One thing you shouldn’t do is dig or cut into the foot. I know this is mentioned as OK all over the Internet but it is actually quite painful and very counterproductive. While prey animals are stoic, chickens are vertebrates that have the same pain nerves that we do. Bumblefoot surgery is always conducted under anesthesia. Vets know their stuff.
There isn’t always a plug in the foot. Some cases are just inflammation. They haven’t matured into a plug. Most birds are not even lame or sore with the inflammation. In fact, none of my birds have ever been lame with a bumble. This is another reason why you shouldn’t cut into the bird’s foot.
While I don’t supply vet advice, this is the trick we use at the rescue, and provided under the direction of our vet. It works like a dream for getting early bumblefoot swellings to ripen and erupt.
Start by purchasing a tube of calcarea carbonica (30c) from a health food store. These are those little homeopathic white balls. Take one of the white pellets and dissolve it in a small amount (2 tablespoons or so) of distilled water. Administer 1 ml to the affected bird.
The remedy does wonders at reducing the inflammation and getting the plug to form.
Dealing with the plug
If you notice a round, dark, and hard callous, soak the foot in an Epsom salt solution. Then dry the foot and put a spot of manuka honey on the callous before wrapping it. Wrapping the foot is not easy and should be done delicately.
I like to cut both ends of a band-aid and stick that around the front toe and the back toe. Then I wrap the foot with strips of vet wrap and before wrapping that with strips of duct tape. Duct tape is the only thing I have found that’s strong enough to stay on! Chickens are quite tough on their feet. Manuka honey works extremely well. It’s commonly used in the medical industry as a very reliable antiseptic. It works much better than anything you might buy over the counter.
When you notice that the plug is ready to peel off easily, soak the foot in Epsom salts and the plug will pull off. If it does not lift of easily, it is not ready. Repeat the Manuka honey wrap.
Note: Bumblefoot can take a long time to fully heal. In some cases it can take months! Be patient. As always, if you are concerned that the chicken appears to be in pain or you notice that something aint right consult with a vet.
After the plug is removed, clean the open wound with a tincture of calendula. This is amazing stuff and worth the purchase. Add about ¼ of a dropper to some warm water. I put this in a bowl and soak the foot in it.
Dry off the foot, put some manuka honey on the wound, and then wrap it.
Make sure the wrap is on well. You don’t want dirt and junk getting into the wound. Birds will actively try to remove it and they are actually pretty skilled at peeling off tape!
You must change the wrap daily or whenever it gets gross or wet. This is when it helps to keep a keen eye on your farm. The foot should heal up fairly quickly but you may see another plug begin to form. Simply wait for it to ripen and then repeat the process! Bumbles can take months to fully heal.
Lastly, keep the foot wrapped until it is back to normal, as the skin will be tender.
Bumblefoot is a bummer (maybe it should be called bummerfoot). Active, foraging birds will get hurt; it’s a fact of life. Keeping animals is a challenge and heck, that’s part of why we do it!
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