From time to time your chickens may experience something called bumblefoot.
This is a fairly common occurrence in backyard flocks and especially with those that can free range.
Overall bumblefoot can be miserable for your hens so it is something that needs treating.
In this article we explain everything you need to know about bumblefoot, including what it is, how to identify and treat it and how to prevent it happening…
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What is Bumblefoot
Bumblefoot, also known as pododermatitis, and can affect chickens, ducks and other fowl.
It is a condition where a chicken’s foot gets infected and develops a central black area (this is a bumble). This is the time when most people recognize bumblefoot.
Although chickens feet are pretty tough, they can occasionally get small cuts on the bottom of their feet. They can also get splinters or foreign bodies in the sole of the foot from walking on sharp objects, scratching up the ground, jumping from perches or other mundane things.
Over time the open area can get infected with a variety of bacteria and the area starts to become inflamed and sore to walk on. Your chicken may limp a bit or sit longer than is usual.
At this stage it remains treatable but if it is left to heal naturally, it won’t heal and can cause severe discomfort to the bird.
Bumblefoot in chickens is not necessarily a sign of poor housekeeping as some folks suggest, although walking in poop, mud and dirt really helps the area to get infected!
There are five grades of infection to bumblefoot. It is very hard to spot the initial phases.
- The first two grades involve very subtle changes to the skin of their foot – they are rarely noticed by the average person.
- At the third grade your chicken will develop the well known black area. Now the infection is well under way and the foot will be hot to touch and swollen.
- Grade four is more systemic. The wound has been left for a long time and the hen is suffering now.
- If the bumble gets to stage five the hen will be crippled and she will walk with a pronounced limp. There may be a deformity of the foot and perhaps some loss of her range of motion too.
What Causes Bumblefoot
Bumblefoot is a bacterial infection usually caused by one of three organisms: Staphylococcus pseudomonas, Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli.
Staphylococcus aureus is the most common.
The infection starts out quietly. A small cut or splinter on the sole of your chickens foot gets infected by walking in poop or another germ laden area. Initially nothing can be seen on the foot but your chicken may favor walking on their other food and stand with the affected foot off the ground.
Bacteria will set up home in the wound and cause inflammation, redness and some pain.
As the infection goes on the area enlarges and causes an abscess to form. This abscess will almost always form a black center. The blackened area is actually dead tissue and cells and is called eschar. This is usually when the infection is noticed.
How To Tell If Your Chicken Has Bumblefoot
The initial two stages of bumblefoot are hard to diagnose.
At this point the infection can just be a shiny, reddened area on the sole of the foot with no obvious problem seen. Their foot pad may be slightly warm to the touch and the skin may look slightly tense and shiny.
However if you observe your hens often then their behavior will usually tip you off that something is wrong.
Behavior such as walking with a slight limp, changes in how she walks or not perching at night, should alert you to check them over.
Even if you do regular foot checks on your chickens the first sign of trouble may be a small black scabbed area somewhere on the foot. It is usually on the sole of the foot but occasionally the hens get the bumbles between their toes.
As the infection progresses the area will become hot to touch.
Once you reach stage three the infection is easy to spot. A scabbed area will appear over a swollen lump. The scab may initially appear brown but frequently turns black. The lump itself should be relatively small – this is good news because the small bumbles are usually the easiest to clean up without resorting to surgery.
Stages four and five are much more serious and will require veterinary treatment and antibiotics. In general these stages of bumblefoot are rarely found unless the chicken has been terribly neglected.
How To Treat Bumblefoot
In the past the treatment of bumblefoot was fairly inhumane.
The bumble would be cut from the foot, fortunately this has gone out of favor as it is a painless procedure for the bird.
These days the treatment is much more humane in most cases.
You will need:
- A bowl filled with three inches of warm water
- Epsom salt (added to the water)
- A large towel to wrap her in
- A well-lit area with plenty of space
First you need to wrap your hen in the towel (leave only her feet exposed). You should talk to her quietly to reassure her because this is a bit scary for her.
Next you need to stand her in the warm water for around 10-15 minutes.
Once the soaking is complete you need to gently pick away at the black spot using a pair of tweezers. Hopefully the edges of the bumble will lift up so you can work at it slowly. Ideally the central black plug will pull out nicely for you.
If the bumble does not come out then return her to the foot bath for another 10 minutes and try again. If the bumble is large and has been in place for some time it may not pop out on the first soaking. It may be something you have to spend a few days with before it is ready to pull out.
Even if the bumble does not come out you should put a dressing on the foot.
In the case of non-removal, use some Neosporin, a gauze pad and a Vetwrap bandage firmly taped in place.
If you were successful you can use Neosporin and Vetericyn Hydrogel and use Vetwrap and tape firmly in place.
The wound should be checked daily to make sure it is healing well. Do not leave it open to air until the wound is completely healed.
This video shows a slightly different approach but it is not for the squeamish.
If you could not remove the bumble on your first try you should continue daily soakings and the process above.
After several days if you are getting nowhere then it is time to ask for a veterinarian’s opinion.
Antibiotics will certainly help to clear up any ongoing infection and they may decide that removal of the bumble is best.
If the bumble is resistant you may need to cut it out.
You can ask your veterinarian to do this or if you feel able to then you can do it at home.
Please note I am not a vet and this advice is based on my experience with my own flock.
You will need:
- A large and small towel
- Small sharp blade
- Fine point scissors
- Antibiotic ointment
- Basin with warm water and Epsom salts
Just like before you should wrap your hen in the towel and soak her feet.
Once the foot is clean you should place her on her side with the affected foot uppermost. Place the small towel over her head to keep her calm and talk to her gently throughout.
The bumble is kind of cone shaped so as you are cutting through the skin imagine an upside down cone – complete a circle around the blackened area. You will need to press quite firmly but should not go deeper than ½ inch or so.
When your circle is complete use the tweezers to pull out the cone – it should come fairly easily and will usually look a bit like a corn kernel.
This is when it will start to bleed.
You should use the gauze to keep the wound open as you need to make sure you have all of the bumble.
Fill the wound with plain Neosporin and put a small gauze pad on top and wrap well with Vetwrap. The bandage should be tight enough to keep everything in place but make sure the hen has circulation to her toes.
They should be warm and pink at all times.
Now give your hen a treat for being so good. She should ideally be isolated and confined to a quiet area for a day or two to heal her foot. You can keep her in a chicken crate.
How To Prevent Bumblefoot
Unfortunately it is very hard to prevent bumblefoot since chickens wander all over the place if they are free range.
Something as simple as stepping on a blackberry thorn or a sharp rock can start it off.
However there are a few things you can do.
You should keep their run free from sharp objects, check for screws, staples and bits of wire. This will help to prevent them from not only stepping on those items but eating them as well.
Next up you should check all of their perches to make sure there are no rough edges or splinters.
I use large tree branches in my coops as well as 2x4s so trim down the sharp areas on them and remove any peeling bark.
Doing regular health checks on your chickens will also be very helpful. Check their feet each month for any visible signs of problems. Watch your birds as they walk around too. Is anyone limping, favoring one foot, standing on one leg for long periods or sitting around and not moving much? All of these can be indicators that something is wrong so do not ignore the signs.
Chickens that are most prone to problems are the larger heavy breeds such as Orpingtons. These chickens need perches that are lower to the ground so they do not injure themselves jumping up or down.
Proper nutrition is essential for your chickens to maintain a healthy body. A bird that is not getting the appropriate nutrition can have issues with skin integrity which can cause the breakdown of tissues on their feet.
Chickens are on their feet day and night.
The skin of their feet is strong and pretty tough.
Despite its strength and durability things can still get under the skin and cause bumblefoot
The non-surgical treatment is time consuming but well worth the patience as the hen will not have to undergo a painful procedure.
Should you have to cut out the infection then your chicken will stay surprisingly calm and still when you cover her head and talk gently to her.
Bumblefoot seems like a small insignificant thing but it can be deadly if ignored.
As a backyard flock keeper it is your duty to do something to help your hen. Let us know in the comments section below…