As homesteaders, farmers, and backyard chicken keepers, we are used to having a million things on our mind at once, and yet, how does it seem one thing occupies most of our time? We have been busy at Chickens.org this month; from building a new *air conditioned* chicken coop, putting together lesson plans and our Coops and Gardens Grant Program it seems what has taken most of our time is caring for bumblefoot. It only seems fitting that is the topic of this month’s blog post!
What is bumblefoot?
Bumblefoot (ulcerative pododermatitis) is a Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) bacterial infection in poultry and other birds caused by damage to tissue on their feet. Bumblefoot is called “sore hocks” when it affects rabbits and rodents. It is very common in poultry, however steps can be taken to avoid this (see below).
Although you and your other animals will not likely “catch” bumblefoot, Staphylococcus bacteria is contagious to humans and other animals, so be sure to wear proper protection (gloves) and thoroughly wash your hands and whatever else came in contact with the wound with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds.
Causes of bumblefoot.
Damaged tissue on the bottom of chicken, rodent and rabbit feet opens a perfect environment for bacterial infection, and usually goes unnoticed until it is rather large. Tissue damage such as a small scratch can occur from regular scratching, walking on rough surfaces, jumping off high perches, splinters, or unclean living conditions (ammonia in poop can damage tissue). Heavier chicken breeds are more prone to bumblefoot since they have more pressure/weight on their feet all day. Read below for tips to prevent bumblefoot.
How do you know your chicken has bumblefoot?
Bumblefoot is one of the things you should be checking your chickens for frequently.
Bumblefoot is classified into four different stages (pictured below). When looking at the bottom of your chicken’s feet, you may notice a small dark spot that does not scratch off, and it may be accompanied by swelling, irritated skin and in bad cases, limping. Bumblefoot most commonly occurs on the pads of the feet but can also be found on toes and the sides of the foot.
“Figure 1. Scoring scale for pododermatitis (i.e., footpad disease) in broiler chickens. The feet of each bird are inspected and given a score based on the photograph they most closely resemble. The scores show an increase in the severity of pododermatitis and range from 0 (representing no evidence of pododermatitis) to 4 (representing severe pododermatitis). Based on the Welfare Quality Project (Welfare Quality, 2009). Photographs are from A. Butterworth (University of Bristol, North Somerset, UK). Color figure available in the online PDF.”
Figure and caption obtained from Rushen, Jeffrey & Butterworth, Andrew & Swanson, Janice. (2011). Animal behavior and well-being symposium: Farm animal welfare assurance: Science and application. Journal of animal science. 89. 1219-28. 10.2527/jas.2010-3589.
How to treat bumblefoot.
Now, the time-consuming part. There are many different treatments for bumblefoot, but we will cover the least invasive, least painful method here.
Items needed to treat bumblefoot:
- Epsom salt
- Warm water
- Bath (bowl, tub with a hole in the lid, actual bathtub, or bin)
- Isopropyl (rubbing alcohol-70% is best)
- Prid (drawing salve commonly used for splinters in humans)
- Vetericyn Plus (or some other antibacterial spray)
- Neosporin (optional)
- Sterile gauze pads
- Self-adhesive vet wrap
Step 1: Wash your hands.
Step 2: Soak chicken feet Epsom salt bath for 15-30 minutes.
Step 3: Sterilize instruments and work area.
Step 4: Dry off chicken and clean foot by spraying with isopropyl or Vetericyn Plus.
Step 5: Gently try to remove bumble corn using the tweezers.
Step 6: Spray with Vetericyn Plus and add a glob of Prid
Step 7: Place gauze pad over wound and wrap with self-adhesive vet wrap.
Step 8: Wash your hands again!
Step 9: Monitor and change bandage daily, repeating steps 1-6 daily until you can remove the entire bumble corn.
Step 10: Keep wound clean (or as clean as a chicken’s foot can be) by changing bandage daily and spraying with Vetericyn Plus until foot is completely healed.
Healing bumblefoot is not always a quick process. It can take anywhere from a couple days to months to treat. Stick with it and your chickens will heal using this method though!
How to prevent bumblefoot.
First off, bumblefoot is very common in chickens and does not mean you are a bad chicken keeper! That said, there are easy ways to prevent bumblefoot!
- Keep your coop/run clean. Ammonia from chicken poop can damage tissue, weakening cell walls allowing the skin to break down and allowing bacteria to colonate.
- Use smooth materials for perches and make sure they are not too high off the ground.Unpainted/unsanded perches can cause splinters and leave your girls susceptible to mites and bacteria. Chickens can damage their feet if jumping from too high off the ground often. Ideally, perches should be at least a foot off the ground and no higher than four feet without another perch or step to the next roost.
- Provide solid, nonabrasive flooring for your chickens. If your chickens are prone to bumblefoot, consider switching from a mesh floor to a solid floor, by adding plywood, fake grass, tile, or smooth planks. Mesh floors can also catch toenails and cause other problems. If your chickens free range throughout the day there is not much you can do about their landscape, but you can make sure their coop had nonabrasive floors.
- Do not overfeed your chickens. Obese chickens are more prone to bumblefoot. Check out our nutrition guide for suggested feeding quantities.
Blair, Jennifer (2013). “Bumblefoot: A Comparison of Clinical Presentation and Treatment of Pododermatitis in Rabbits, Rodents and Birds”. In Fisher, Peter G. (ed.). Select Topics in Dermatology. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice. 16. Elsevier Health Sciences. pp. 715–736. doi:10.1016/j.cvex.2013.05.002. ISBN 978-0-323-18876-0. ISSN 1094-9194. PMID 24018034.
Rushen, Jeffrey & Butterworth, Andrew & Swanson, Janice. (2011). Animal behavior and well-being symposium:Farm animal welfare assurance: Science and application. Journal of animal science. 89. 1219-28. 10.2527/jas.2010-3589.
Steele, A. : L. (2021, April 21). Everything you need to know about Chicken Roosting Bars. Backyard Poultry. https://backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/coops/chicken-roosting-bars/.