Bumblefoot is also known as “plantar pododermatitis” and is an infection found on the bottom of the feet of chickens and other poultry, which is typically identified by swelling and a dark scab, and/or limping in more advanced cases. Left untreated, it can be fatal.
This first photo illustrates a slightly more advanced case of bumblefoot than the photo below it. Note the redness, swelling and tell-tale scabs. This hen was not limping yet.
This is Phoebe, she's my bantam, Cochin Frizzle. As if it weren't enough to suffer the indignity of this horrific molt last year, she had
to endure bumblefoot surgery on top of it! All of the surgical photos below are of Phoebe's procedure.
We caught Phoebe's infection early. Note the swelling and redness in this first photo, but lack of a distinct, black scab in the photo
Causes: Bumblefoot can be caused by a cut, scrape or injury to the foot pad, commonly occurring from a splintered roost or repetitive, heavy landings from heights or poor litter management. The compromised skin allows an entry point for bacteria (eg: staphylococcus), which can then lead to a pus-filled abscess. A less common cause of bumblefoot is a vitamin A deficiency. Failure to treat bumblefoot timely can result in death.
Detection: Regular inspection of your birds’ feet is recommended. The most common symptoms of bumblefoot include limping or lameness. Inspection of the foot pad may reveal redness, swelling and either a callous-looking lesion or a black scab. Once infection has set in, it can spread to the bones and joints, which can be fatal.
Provide your chickens with a good, balanced diet, (e.g.: layer pellets for egg-producing hens) proper roosts that are splinter-free and less than 18” in height and properly maintained litter conditions.
The affected foot should be cleaned thoroughly with a Betadine solution. 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. More advanced cases may need to be surgically treated and some cases may require a course of antibiotics. Failure to treat this infection can be fatal. If you can bring your chicken to an avian veterinarian for treatment, that is ideal, the following is the one I use for self-help.
****The following is not professional, veterinary or medical advice. It is my experience as a backyard chicken-keeper and is shared for others whose pets may otherwise perish from the inability to obtain professional veterinary care.****
This procedure is horribly graphic and time-consuming. It generally takes about an hour to complete the procedure and while it can be done by one person, two makes it infinitely easier. I find that performing this procedure is best done at the kitchen sink where adequate lighting, counter space and a water source are available. See my YouTube video of bumblefoot surgery from start to finish HERE.
I always keep a basic first-aid kit handy and I keep mine stocked it with: Vetericyn VF, Betadine, triple antibiotic ointment, vitamins & electrolytes, scalpels, non-stick gauze pads, Vetwrap, tweezers and gloves, Epsom salt, sterile scalpels, tweezers, scissors, Nutri-Drench and Duramycin. During an urgent, medical situation, acquiring supplies should not be the priority.
PREPARATION & EQUIPMENT: These are the supplies that I use for performing bumblefoot surgery: Betadine, 2 bath towels, gloves, Vetwrap, scalpel, paper towels, Vetericyn VF or antibiotic ointment & gauze (Epsom salt, optional).
I sanitize the sink with a bleach and water solution before and after the procedure. Sanitizing cutting instruments and tweezers thoroughly is a critical component of avoiding infection.
Bandaging. I only use Vetwrap for bandaging after this procedure. Vetwrap is a self-sticking, stretchy bandage that is lightweight and needs no tape to stay secured. It is not sticky or gluey and it remains in place beautifully. It can be found at Tractor Supply Stores, feed stores and online. One, 5-6 inch strip of Vetwrap cut lengthwise into three or four smaller pieces.
Vetericyn VF OR Antibiotic ointment - I used to apply triple antibiotic ointment at the end of the procedure but instead of antibiotic ointment, I now exclusively apply Vetericyn VF to the wound, allowing it to sit untouched for 30 seconds, then apply a 2” x 2” square of non-stick gauze and wrap the foot.
Breathing is important. We take breathers in between steps and if feeling lightheaded at all, take a break, sit down and regroup before returning to the job. We talk to the chicken while doing the procedure; I find that it helps everyone get through it.
Soak- Fill sink with enough warm water to cover the foot. Add Betadine to the water. Soak the foot to soften up the foot pad and clean it well externally. Drain the sink and re-fill with a water and Betadine mix or with Epsom salt in water. Repeat soaking procedure. I next apply some Vetericyn VF.
Preparing the Chicken Wrapping the chicken so they can't see what is going on, calms and stills them. I use a towel so that her head is covered and she can’t see but can breathe, then lay her on the counter, on her back with her foot facing up. It is helpful to have an assistant holding the chicken in place gently, but securely. 99.99% of the time the chicken poops at some point or other, whether it's in the water or on the towel. She will wait until it is least convenient; I always consider it a sign of appreciation for my efforts and keep paper towels and a second bath towel handy. I next apply some Vetericyn VF to the foot.
We wrap securely so they can't see as it calms them.
OPTIONS: remove scab & apply Vetericyn OR Remove Infection under scab and then apply Vetericyn
I wear gloves- as it is messy work and some infections can be contracted by humans. Next, taking a scalpel, Exacto knife or some type of extremely sharp razor instrument, I cut into the pad of the foot all around the outside circumference of the scab, straight down into the foot. There is usually some blood, but not ghastly amounts. I dab with paper towels or gauze so I can see where I'm going. The scab is then removed with as much underlying dead tissue as can be grasped. It helps to use a paper towel or tweezers.
Removing the Scab: While cutting down, I'm looking for dead tissue and a “kernel” or “plug” that may be at the heart of the infection. It is often attached to the scab itself so I don't rush to remove the scab as it can help lift the infected tissue. The plug consists of dehydrated pus that has solidified. It actually looks like a waxy, dried kernel of corn. There is not always a kernel present but there will be stringy, slippery bits of thread-like, whitish/yellowish tissue.There's the kernel at the tip of the razor (we use only scalpels now as they come sterilized & are easier to control.)
At this point, I decide whether to continue trying to remove more of the infection or stopping, applying Vetericyn VF and bandaging the foot. It’s totally a judgment call every time based on severity of the infection, ease of access and whether the kernel is visible. This one was.
The kernel that was removed:
If I decide I’m going to continue with removal of the infection after the scab is removed, I re-soak the foot in clean Betadine water and gently squeeze and massage the foot pad from outside in, towards the wound to loosen up the gunk inside. 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 get to the infection. Once the kernel is visualized, if there is one, I use sterilized tweezers or paper towel to hold onto it and cut around it, trying to pull it out in one piece if possible. The kernel is distinguishable from foot pad as it is hard, waxy, yellowish material versus foot pad that is soft, pliable and pink.
FINISHING UP & BANDAGING: Once I'm fairly satisfied that I have gotten most of the gunk out, I apply Vetericyn VF to the wound and place a piece of non-stick gauze on top. Antibiotic ointment may be used if Vetericyn is not available. Once the gauze is in place, fold each of the four corners in towards the center of the square, (creating a smaller square). This will create a little bit of pressure to the area to stem any residual bleeding and keep the Vetericyn or antibiotic ointment in place after wrapping it.
With the first strip of Vetwrap: I hold it at the top of the foot and weave it under the foot, over the gauze, then around and between the toes, securely, but not too tightly. I repeat with the remaining two strips, ending with the wrap going up, above the foot an inch or so.
I made a brief YouTube video to demonstrate the wrapping technique here.
This is Oprah, on the right. She had double bumblefoot surgery recently as you can see from her bandaging. The bandages were removed after six days as she had healed beautifully by then.
OBSERVATION & FOLLOW-UP: The vet wrap remains on the foot until the next day when it is removed to assess the wound. If everything looks good, I re-apply Vetericyn and the gauze with and secure with Vetwrap. At any sign of infection (redness, swelling, red streaks up the foot) I would call my vet for antibiotics.
I keep the bandage on the foot for about a week, changing it approximately every 24-48 hours. A new and improved scab will form and that’s a good thing. It will not be black with infection as the original scab was. I have never found it necessary to administer antibiotics after bumblefoot surgery.
This is how Phoebe's foot looked five days after her surgery, which is just how it should appear.
My chicken tolerate this procedure well, the humans, less so. It is not complicated or technically challenging, but it is time consuming
and yucky. I always remind myself that I’m doing the right thing for my chickens, who, if not treated, will remain in pain, get worse and possibly die from infection.
This is Phoebe five weeks after her bumblefoot surgery, happily digging in the woods. Back to business as usual and molting hideously.
This is an update on the bumblefoot surgery we did on our Silver Spangled Hamburg who was featured in my YouTube video. These photos were taken three days after her surgery.
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.
This is exactly how the wound should look three days after the procedure. A new, healthy scab is forming, some of which came off with the removal of the gauze, but it looks healthy. We re-bandaged as described above.
Four days post-op and Stella is out-and-about with the rest of the flock, getting her scratch on!
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