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What is Bumblefoot?

Bumblefoot is an oddly playful-sounding name given to a serious condition that strikes the feet, joints and bones of captive birds worldwide. Often referred to as pododermatitis, bumblefoot is an inflammatory condition of the soles of the feet that, if treated quickly and aggressively, can be resolved without causing long-term or significant damage to a bird. In some cases, however, birds beset by advanced and untreated bumblefoot can become so systemically infected that their lives are unsustainable. Bacterial infections that begin in the pads of the foot can ultimately lead to a bird’s death. Many surviving birds endure chronic abscesses and the amputation of a leg.

There are many factors that contribute to the development of bumblefoot, a condition that can easily be avoided with proper husbandry. One factor involves improper perches or surfaces in the bird’s living environment or enclosure. If a bird, for example, stands for extended periods of time on a cement floor, a wooden surface or a perch covered with a rough material like burlap, small cracks or worn-away areas form on the soles of the feet. Over a period of time, the bottom of the feet become mottled with the small, red spots or sores that characterize bumblefoot.

If the bird owner notices the formation of these sores, initiates veterinary treatment, and makes positive changes to the bird’s living environment, the prognosis for healing is good. However, without veterinary attention and environmental improvements, the sores typically turn into painful abscesses, which enable opportunistic pathogens (usually Staphylococcus aureus) to breach the surface of the thinning skin. In due time, the infection encroaches upon joints in the feet and bones in the legs, and surrounding tissues become necrotic. Ulcers may form on the feet, and the bird may become progressively lame.

Birds most at-risk for bumblefoot include obese birds, aging and disabled birds, due to the excess pressure placed on the feet, as well as limited mobility. Birds with any kind of immune weakness must be watched and cared for.

Bumblefoot is an inflammatory condition of the soles of the feet that, if treated quickly and aggressively, can be resolved without causing long-term or significant damage to a bird.

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Symptoms of Bumblefoot in Birds

  • Scabs on feet – dark, circular
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Thickening of skin
  • Lameness
  • Reluctance to walk
  • Ulcers on soles of feet

Causes of Bumblefoot in Birds

There are a variety of causes or predisposing factors behind the development of bumblefoot. Some of these include:

  • Hard/uneven/rough floor surfaces
  • Improperly designed or covered perches (small diameter, wooden or burlap covers)
  • Damp, unsanitary bedding
  • Vitamin A deficiency
  • Accumulation of feces
  • Overall unsanitary environment
  • Poor diet
  • Overgrown toenails
  • Overweight
  • Lack of activity
  • Previous leg or foot injury
  • Fighting among flock members
  • Leg or conformation abnormality

Diagnosis of Bumblefoot in Birds

The primary diagnostic tool is an examination of both feet. Bumblefoot may present with redness, swelling, small red sores, or dark colored scabs on the pads of the foot/feet. Depending upon severity and length of time with the condition, there may be lesions, cracks, or discoloration.

Additionally, x-rays will reveal signs of infection, as well as any areas on the joints or bones where there’s been erosion or other damage.

Bacterial samples will be taken and evaluated at a microbiology lab in order to isolate the offending organism. An antibiotic sensitivity test may help determine the best course of antibiotic treatment to rid the bird of this terrible condition, or to manage it in the case of a chronic issue. A blood sample will be taken to check for other possible health conditions.

Treatment of Bumblefoot in Birds

The severity (classified grade of severity), type and path of infection will direct treatment. No matter what, the owner should keep the bird’s feet sanitized, and tailor the living environment to both promote healing and to eliminate destructive perches and surfaces. Oral antibiotics and antibiotic ointment will control the infection. Bandaging may be recommended in order to reduce the opportunity for pathogens to enter the wounds. In more severe cases, surgery (including debridement of abscesses) will help to save the feet, and life, of the bird. Antibiotics will be essential in resolving infection, and the bird can be kept comfortable with pain and anti-inflammatory medication.

Recovery of Bumblefoot in Birds

With fast and complete medical care, birds have a good chance of overcoming bumblefoot. While the immediate symptoms may be resolved, other lifestyle and environmental changes will give the bird the best chance for a bumblefoot-free future. 

The quality and number of perches will influence your bird’s health. It’s best to supply perches of different sizes (such as diameter), positions (such as corner perches), and materials, including softer rope, braided cotton or different types of synthetic material. Perches must be kind on the bird’s feet. If you are unsure of the best material, please ask your vet or another aviary professional. Be sure to maintain clean perches so bacteria do not enter the feet.

Maintain proper nutrition, including Vitamin A.  Since obesity is a risk factor for many health conditions, your vet can recommend an appropriate dietary and exercise regimen. 

Some birds with serious cases of bumblefoot require long-term antibiotic treatment, particularly if the infection extended into the joints and bones. Your bird will signify pain by lifting one foot up at a time. Look at the soles of the feet each time you clean the cage. If there is bleeding or excess weeping/drainage, flush with sterile saline solution and keep it bandaged and dry until you can see the vet. 

Like all pet owners, the best thing you can offer your companion is a clean, sanitary environment, nutritious food, and clean water.